The Bushbury South and Low Hill neighborhood of Wolverhampton has the highest levels of energy poverty in the country.
the recent fuel price increase it has left almost nine out of ten fuel poor people (88%), unable to pay their energy bills.
As the cost of fuel rises, people are pushed into more hardship, forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families.
This was once an area filled with industry and jobs, but as businesses closed and moved, unemployment rose and opportunities dwindled.
Most of the families we spoke to pay for their fuel with a pay-as-you-go meter, constantly monitoring the readings.
Residents are now facing challenges and making sacrifices like never before. We met families going to bed early to warm up at night, retirees taking buses all day to avoid heating their homes, and children suffering from bronchitis.
Life here feels harsh, and the concern is that as energy prices continue to rise, things will become even more difficult for families already living on the edge.
Elaine Barnaby, 58, is a single mother of three children, one of whom has special educational needs.
Elaine watches her energy meter like a hawk. “It’s the last thing I do at night and the first thing I do when I wake up,” she says. She has already noticed that her recharges don’t last as long, “I used to recharge her twice a week because she would last, but now we recharge her every other day, and sometimes it costs ten, fifteen, twenty pounds,” she says.
The problem is that your profits don’t increase, so energy price increases mean you have less money left over each week. He gets £130 a week and admits he can barely afford the basics. “I just live day to day and make sure my kids have heat and something to eat.”
In the colder months, Elaine and her children go to bed early to avoid having the heat on. “The children go up to their room and I go up with my son, with whom I share a room. We go up at 5 o’clock and I sit on the bed under the covers, with the television on, with the robe on, you are saving electricity and gas”.
Graham Childs, 82, is a retiree who takes buses and trains every day to keep warm.
Graham lost his wife several years ago and now lives alone.
He has little money to heat his bungalow, so he uses his bus pass to keep warm. “When I’m away I don’t have to have the heat on at home, I can still ride the bus to the train,” she says.
Graham sits on buses and trains every day, she says it’s the cheapest way to beat the cold, “Sometimes it can be cheaper to go to a pub and have a drink than it is to be at home.”
She doesn’t turn on the lights at night, goes to bed after dark, and always eats sparingly, “While shopping I look for deals and reduced items.”
That’s not how Graham planned for retirement: “It feels like a waste of 40 years of my life going to work. I started working in 1954. I didn’t think I’d be in poverty in old age,” he says.
Charmaine Campbell, 32, single mother of five children
I met Charmaine at a one pot cooking class. With other parents in the area, she is learning how to cook on a budget, saving energy and money.
She depends on profits and fears the fuel bills she will face in the future. “Everything is going to get a little harder,” she says.
With five young children, his main expense is gasoline. She worries about her health if she doesn’t keep the heat on.
“The baby ended up with bronchitis several times, in two months he had it six times and we had to go to the hospital,” says Charmaine.
Charmaine has anxiety and depression, dreams of a career as a painter and decorator but says it’s hard to get started. “I don’t plan things because it’s better to do things day by day. You just have to find a way to keep going,” she says.