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One in three families living in fuel poverty in parts of Suffolk, shock figures show

Vulnerable families are “struggling to survive” it was warned last night after figures revealed one in three families live in fuel poverty in parts of Suffolk.

More than 50,000 – or 16% – of Suffolk families suffered from fuel poverty in 2011, according to the latest government figures.

A household is recognised as living in fuel poverty if more than 10% of its total income is spent on heating.

Suffolk Coastal wards Walberswick and Wenhaston experienced fuel poverty rates of 35.4% in 2011, while nearby ward Yoxford had a rate of 35.2%.

Mandy Abdel-Aziz, operations manager at Suffolk Foundation, said more than 700 families have signed up to its Surviving Winter and Warm Homes Healthy People initiatives, which supports families with funding during the winter months.

“We have seen a huge demand from people who are suffering from fuel poverty. People are in dire straits. It’s a desperate situation for a lot of people,” she added.

“People are huddling up in one room and can’t use water to drink or wash. People are struggling to survive.

“And these are not just people on benefits but people in part-time work or temporary employment. They are not getting consistent work.

“It’s a bleak picture but it’s reality. I think it is only going to get worse as energy bills continue to rise.”

The figures, released yesterday by the Department of Energy & Climate Change, showed 51,574 of 310,832 Suffolk families were suffering from fuel poverty.

More than one in five families were classed as living in fuel poverty in areas of Ipswich, including Holywells and St. Margaret’s wards.

Helen Taylor, information manager at Age UK Suffolk, said: “Worryingly, these latest figures show that the number of households in fuel poverty has remained stubbornly high.

“Many of them older people who are particularly vulnerable to the cold.

“Cold homes face a serious risk to people’s health, increasing costs to health and care services to treat worsened cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, and contribute to the high numbers of older people we see dying over the cold winter months in the UK.”

Figures from energy comparison website uSwitch showed annual gas bills had soared from £370 in 2003 to £799 in 2013 in Suffolk, while electric bills had shot up from £237 to £540.

Roger Turkington, a member of Community Action Suffolk, said the era of low energy bills was over.

“These are very worrying figures and are compounded by the rise in the cost of living and energy prices, which have doubled in the last 10 years and will continue to rise,” he added.