On Wednesday this article was circulated over Twitter.
It’s a story written about a man who is welfare dependent. Due to the welfare benefit cuts under the Coalition government and the bedroom tax, he is using a fuel bank to have enough hot water to heat his home, wash, wash up and clean his clothes.
It’s the first time I’d heard of fuel banks, I’ve heard of food banks of course, but fuel banks? That was a shock.
The sentence that stood out for me was this one: “I don’t want to get used to hot water and heating again.”
Now some of you reading might think that living on ESA, the welfare benefit that I claim because the DWP has assessed me as unfit to work due to having MECFS, means that my life can’t be the same as this man’s story.
But in many ways it is. He’s not the only one in fuel poverty.
I recognised myself in him.
In the descriptions of the effects of having to move home to bring my housing benefit under the price of the single person’s benefit cap for London, I haven’t mentioned that my home is fuelled entirely by electricity.
Every time I want to put the lights on, wash up, have a bath or a shower, cook, do laundry, watch TV, hoover or use my computer I have to calculate how much power I am using.
My home limits what I can afford to pay for on my electricity bill.
To be clear, the article suggested the man was using a pre-paid electricity meter. They are very, very expensive.
I don’t have one of those, but electrical energy in a home is still the most expensive way of powering and heating your home, particularly heating.
But I am similar to him in that I am benefits-reliant and am entirely on my own. ESA has to cover every bill coming in, I’m not on DLA or PIP for reasons I explain in this post and there’s no-one else in my life to help me out financially.
By trial and error I’ve worked out that during lighter and warmer months, I should be using an average of about 8 units of electricity daily. If I stick to about 8 units of electricity per day during warmer and lighter months, I can afford my monthly payments which are about £46.00 pcm.
How I do it. The Warmer / lighter months routine
I get up, leave the flat and switch on the hot water boiler for 1 1/2 hours. No longer that that!
That will give me enough hot water for a bath and to do some washing up.
After having a bath and washing up I have to make sure I remember to go back outside into the hallway and switch the boiler back off again.
That’s it for hot water for the day. If I wash my hands in cold water for the rest of the day, so be it.
TV’s a treat
Switching on my TV is a treat. It’s one of those large flat screen ones. Until I was on benefits I didn’t realise how much power they use. So I only switch it on if it’s a special occasion, like there’s a really good film I want to watch on a screen bigger than an IPAD.
Did I mention IPAD? I did. I have one because a family member was upgrading and they donated it to me. That’s how I watch telly, most of the time. It’s how I’m listening to something now while I’m typing.
Hardly free although it is free standing
Until last winter I didn’t switch on my central heating at all. I used one of these free standing heaters. This winter was far colder and I found it really, really tough. So I had to switch on the central heating.
As my living room is only 5 metres across it heats it up quite quickly as long as the curtains are closed and I’ve blocked all the draughts with home made draught excluders.
Oh and the curtains I’ve nailed over the door frames are closed.
The curtains is something that I can’t let my landlord know about because it’s an ‘adaptation’ to this hell hole that is against the terms and conditions of my lease.
Autumn / winter and colder months routine
Electrical heating unit guzzling monster
During autumn and particularly winter it’s a different story. I do run the central heating now but as it’s electrical it literally eats units of electricity like a hungry unit grabbing monster. Watching the dials whizz around when my central heating is on is like watching a spinning top.
So I have to limit my central heating to 1 hour per day.
During winter my unit limit per day is about 25. If it goes higher than that then I have to either switch off the lights, not do any laundry for a while or reduce baths to showers.
Taking showers in my bathroom during colder months are freezing cold. It’s often the bath on a winter’s morning and the dash to get clothes on afterwards that makes it possible to keep warm during the day.
That and keeping the curtains closed and pulling a rug over me and wearing gloves when it’s really cold. Oh and I sleep with an electric blanket on full all night during winter. Except, yeah, that’s electricity too!
This winter and bill arrears
This winter was longer than I think anyone expected. I kept hoping and hoping it would get warmer sooner because I feel the cold through every pore and every bone in my body. The flat is damp and draughts blow through it like a stately home.
I knew that I was taking a risk with the bill this year because I still had to run the heating in April. Who’d have thought that the weather on the outside would have so much impact on the inside.
When I logged in to have a look at my electricity account it gave me a figure. The figure was £83.76. If I hadn’t been so on top of it I would have thought that meant I was in credit.
I phoned them to check. No, I wasn’t in credit. I owe them £83.96. I panicked. I don’t have the money to pay that off. We quickly agreed I’d increase my monthly payments to cover the arrears but it won’t clear it before Autumn when I would usually run my heating.
What it now means is that I’m going to have to increase my autumn and winter fuel payments to near £80.00 PCM to cover the arrears and next winter’s payments.
This means I WILL have to decide between heat and eat.
If I can cook in big batches and put them in the fridge and use the microwave to heat them up, that should bring the cost down.
The oven is another big guzzler and don’t even go there with the kettle and this is all because I put my central heating on when it’s cold. It’s a human right to be in a warm home.
That I’m on ESA and in this flat means I can’t chose to be warm.
Yesterday I did an experiment. If I can get my units per day during summer down, I can start to clear my electrical deficit off earlier.
I took a meter reading in the morning. Then I ran a short washing load and used my computer, didn’t put on any lights, had a bath as normal and listened to things on the IPAD. Last night I sat outdoors in the sun and watched a programme on my laptop. I fell asleep while my laptop was on and left broadband on at the same time.
That ‘cost’ me exactly 8 units.
The day before – on Wednesday – it was cold and damp. I switched on the electric heater for a short while to bring the temperature up a bit. It was on for about 2 hours.
That and my usual routine cost me 38 units. That’s way, way too much. I can’t afford that so I know now that I can’t do that again.
It’s not only the elderly who are at risk of fuel poverty, it’s people like me too and there’s something else to remember in this – I’m not well.
There’s no prognosis for how long I will have this illness, no treatment and no cure.
Do you think I deserve to be housed in a council flat or get a housing association home?
Imagine how you’d feel if you had to toss up every single hour of every single day during colder months whether you had enough money to have hot water, cook or heat your home.
Electrical maths means I literally do have to tot, and then toss up, how much I can afford to spend per day.
Those are stark decisions to make for anyone well, let alone someone who is ill.
This is why any notion that ESA is enough for someone to live on, pay their bills and keep themselves well is a fallacy. It simply isn’t true. It puts me on the poverty line.
I live, eat, clothe, pay for treatment, pay for travel and pay my household bills and anything else that comes in from approx £6000.00 ESA per year. That’s it, that’s all. No overdraft, no credit cards, no pay day loans, it has to cover it all.
Tory policies will affect me
If the Tory government imposes further welfare cuts that impact on Employment and Support Allowance I WILL be joining the queue for the Fuel Bank.
If the Tory government instates a law that housing association tenants can buy their own homes, I will be even less of a chance of being re-housed.
If the Tory government imposes changes to funding or the level of private healthcare the NHS there is even more of a risk that economic priorities will become as important as research, level of care and level of staffing.
If the Tory government repeals the Human Rights Act which supports the provisions of the European Convention Of Human Rights, vulnerable groups in society will be at risk from no legal recourse to policy or provision that negatively impacts on their lives.
If the Tory government does not address the housing crisis and actively promote the building of affordable homes in London, people like me will be forced out of being able to rent or own homes in the capital.
If the Tory government or any of the opposition parties, do not tackle the issues with substandard housing and enshrine in law a requirement for landlords to provide housing that meets minimum standards to tenants, myself and many other people in the UK will continue to be at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords in sub standard homes.
This is why writing this diary is essential. It doesn’t matter how bad I feel while I’m writing and how exhausted I feel afterwards – someone has to tell the truth of their situation to bust these myths perpetuated by the Tory government and press.
Like the Tories I’ve done the maths. This isn’t scaremongering, this is my present and my future and it’s painfully real.
© Lindy 2015