Coping with low incomes and cold homes
This paper presents findings from a study of low-income households in Great Britain which explored households’ strategies for coping both with limited financial resources in the winter months, when demand for domestic energy increases, and, in some cases, with cold homes. The study combined a national survey of 699 households with an income below 60 per cent of national median income with in-depth interviews with a subsample of 50 households. The primary strategy adopted by low-income households to cope with financial constraint was to reduce spending, including spending on essentials such as food and fuel, and thereby keep up with core financial commitments. While spending on food was usually reduced by cutting the range and quality of food purchased, spending on energy was usually reduced by cutting consumption. Sixty-three per cent of low-income households had cut their energy consumption in the previous winter and 47 per cent had experienced cold homes. Improvements to the thermal performance of homes reduced but did not eliminate the risk of going cold as any heating cost could be a burden to households on the lowest incomes. Householders’ attitudes were central to their coping strategies, with most expressing a determination to ‘get by’ come what may.