Comment

“People cannot depend on vouchers to be able to cook”

As Tottenham Foodbank launches a new initiative to help people with gas and electricity bills, Olivia Opara explains why more needs to be done

When Tottenham Foodbank saw a sharp rise in people asking for parcels that needed minimal or no cooking (even finding that some were using kettles to cook as it is more cost effective), they knew they needed to take action. Founding a ‘fuel bank’ in October 2022, they now provide vouchers towards these costs of up to £49, usually limited to three vouchers within a six month period.

While the fuel bank has helped many pay their energy bills, which in turn can enable people to cook a wider range of meals for their families, it simply cannot be celebrated as a long-term solution. If anything, the very existence of this fuel bank signifies an ongoing fuel poverty – and an even more deeply entrenched deprivation – in Haringey.

Lydia, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, regularly uses the fuel bank and disclosed that she struggles to make ends meet. She is constantly conscious about the choices she makes – having to forgo food because the little money she has is now being spent on energy bills. She felt stuck and didn’t know who else to go to for support. Like Lydia, there are many who live with fuel poverty in Haringey.

Official statistics show that in 2018, Haringey had the second highest percentage of residents living in fuel poverty in London. In 2020, 15,391 Haringey households experienced fuel poverty, making up 14% of residents. Current data on fuel poverty only accounts up to 2020 and considering stacking costs in the wake of Covid-19 and present-day inflation, one begins to wonder how many more are now at risk of living in fuel poverty in Haringey when one’s income does not match the cost of living.

In fact, there are areas in Haringey that are some of the most deprived in the country, with high levels of poverty and crime. In 2019, Northumberland Park was ranked in the Mayor of London’s City Intelligence 2020 report the London ward with the second highest level of deprivation with a multiple deprivation index (IMD) score of 2. Haringey placed fourth as the most deprived London borough. In the same year, Haringey was the 42nd most income-deprived of the 316 local authorities in England (excluding the Isles of Scilly) – with 17% of those living in the borough income-deprived.

With many people surviving from paycheck to paycheck, children steeped in poverty and parents choosing to starve to heat their homes, a serious discussion that brings real sustainable longterm solutions is urgently needed. Tottenham’s fuel bank already cannot help everyone in need and certainly cannot continue to do so, especially when the Energy Price Guarantee is set to increase from £2,500 to £3,000 for ‘typical’ annual consumption in July.

People cannot depend on vouchers to be able to cook and have warm showers and they should not have to. The state in which people are living is humiliating and quite frankly appalling, begging the question: are they actually living when, like Lydia, they are constantly calculating how every penny should be spent so they can survive until tomorrow?


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