STRAIGHT TALK: Not much joy for our fuel poor

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TODAY’S front page story contains a pretty startling statistic – that about 32 per cent of people in South Holland are in fuel poverty.

I don’t know about you but I’m not one for buying every stat I read. Most we receive to our newsdesk have quite obviously involved someone being desperate to prove a point and then tasked with finding a meaningless percentage or fraction that makes them sound plausible.

An example being that hotel prices have apparently risen by about 20 per cent in Wolverhampton – evidence, so the now-deleted press release claimed, of the boom caused by having a Premier League football club in town.

Except it didn’t back that up by comparing it to similar towns who now don’t have a Premier League club. Still don’t let the facts get in the way of a good piece of spin though, eh?

The South Holland statistics we found don’t appear to be spin. For a start we had to root beyond the first regional and then county-wide breakdowns put out in a press release for an accurate local picture.

Then, when you look at the definition of fuel poverty – that a household needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel to heat their property to an adequate standard of warmth (21 degrees celsius in a living room, 18 elsewhere) – it would seem to make sense in our low wage and high-aged rural area.

Whether that definition equates to most people’s definition of ‘poverty’ or not might be another matter but the undeniable fact is some people in our area are caught in a ‘perfect storm’ at the moment that makes those bills a real burden.

In some of our villages, where there is no gas supply, people are facing massive price rises for heating oil for their home at the same time as petrol prices are soaring.

In those villages where post offices and shops have long since perished and little or no buses stop there is no choice but to jump in the car.

Fuel prices rising also forces up food costs – at a time when wages are standing still at best.

It’s horrible to think that some people may be thinking of cutting back their food and heating consumption just to keep their cars on the road and I hope this does not add another reason – along with unaffordable house prices and a lack of jobs – to put the next generation off rural life completely.

The warmer weather may at least provide some respite – but the costs are still going up and so I should imagine the joys of Spring will be in short supply for many right now.