This is the first in a three-part series on staying warm this winter.
It’s 6 am now. Frost glitters on Fateh Singh’s driveway* in Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK. The 65-year-old man removed the cardboard from the outside of his car’s windshield. When it gets colder, he has a habit of protecting the car from the frost that forms during the night.
Inside the car, it was freezing cold as Singh prepared to drive to work. Normally, he chooses public transport to save fuel, but recent rail strikes in the UK have forced him to use his car.
Singh, a security guard, told Al Jazeera: “It’s too bad your salary isn’t enough to make up for these ridiculous price hikes.
The average domestic cost of energy has increased by 74% year-on-year in 2021, according to data (PDF) from the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
“A lot of stress has been placed on us. “You are afraid to turn on the heater because prices have skyrocketed, especially with this weather,” says Singh. “You have to monitor your smartwatch to see how much power you are using.”
The UK has recently faced a cold snap, with temperatures dropping below freezing and in some parts of the country as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit). Singh’s predicament is similar to that of many others.
Recently report by University College London’s Institute of Health Inequality estimates that 18 million households — or two-thirds of the UK population — could fall into energy poverty by January 2023. Low-income, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and Blacks and minority groups are most at risk.
Singh has fibromyalgia, a disease that causes pain in the body. The cold weather didn’t help his condition, and the stress of increasing electricity bills didn’t help either.
“My energy supplier told me I was in debt when I weighed almost 400 pounds [$485] Credit. And all of a sudden I’m up to £900 [$1,095] of debt. Every time I asked them, they said: ‘check your watch and send us the results’, I did. They say the readings are correct.”
After complaining to his supplier and receiving sudden silences and calls cut off, Singh came across a “Warm Day” held at the local church where the elders of the area The region was offered warm drinks and had the opportunity to discuss domestic issues such as rising energy costs.
The church took over Singh’s case, but they were also prevented by his energy supplier. “They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to solve the problem,” he said.
Volatility in energy and food markets – partly due to the war in Ukraine – has forced many people in the UK to choose between heating their homes or eating a meal. Many people are looking for ways to reduce their energy consumption.
Some are looking for creative solutions or seeking expert advice to help reduce their bills.
“I had energy savers come to the house the other day,” says Singh. “They put drafts on the doors for me and told me to put thick curtains in front of the windows to keep the wind out. They also gave me three energy efficient light bulbs.
“More or less everything in the house is energy efficient,” he said.