Weston families 'deciding between keeping children warm or fed'
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A school in Weston has confirmed it has seen an increase in demand for its fuel fund, with parents telling them that they 'have had to decide between keeping their children warm or fed'.
Bournville Primary School created the fund in December 2020 following lockdown and has since acted as a means for parents to afford to feed their children and pay for fuel and energy bills.
The school's safeguarding lead told the Mercury that more than 50 children have relied on the fund and an increase in energy prices and the £20-per-week Universal Credit uplift being withheld has seen a rise in repeat users.
Fiona Bennett said: "We do get regular donations from groups such as the Lions and more people are aware of the fund, however, there has been an increase in demand recently.
"Since December 2020, we have helped 19 families, 56 children, with more families relying on our services regularly to feed their kids despite being employed.
"It has got to the point where families are making decisions between being warm or feeding themselves."
Prior to the pandemic, figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) show that 5,145, 10 per cent, of households in Weston were considered to be in fuel poverty, meaning that paying energy bills would push them below the poverty line.
Weston MP John Penrose has also pledged to push ministers to regulate the Energy Price Cap to avoid a sudden spike during the winter period.
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Mrs Bennett added: "Stopping the Universal Credit uplift hit low-income families very hard.
"People are not aware of who has been affected recently - there are more people fuel poor and increasing energy bills will continue."
On average, the school pays £40 for each family who applies to its fuel fund.
As it stands, the fuel fund has £1,800 remaining to help pupils get through the upcoming winter with everything they need.
Two families who have relied on the fund, and wished to remain anonymous, both told the Mercury that they first contacted the school in March of this year and have since used the fund twice and three times respectively.
The first family said: "I have used the fund twice, I am not aware of any other service to help pay with my bills so I have not gone elsewhere.
"Universal Credit uplift stopping is bound to have an effect, £86 per month is a lot to lose. Some people can be a bit stuck up by this but I work and things are still tight at the end of the month.
"I have already been told that I will be paying higher bills this winter. The gas supplier has sent a letter to say that my monthly bills will be going from £46 per month to £92 per month.
"That is why I rely on this fund to help so that I can continue to not get into debt with gas."
The second family that spoke with the Mercury also stated that it was not aware of any other support out there similar to the fuel fund.
They said: "There are definitely misconceptions about those who use the fuel fund.
"I feel that there is a sense of shame about using this - that people think 'why don’t they go and work'?'"
They also told the Mercury that they had been warned of rising energy bills as winter approaches.
They added: "I have also been emailed to by my gas provider to say that my bills will be increasing, approximately from £20 to £30 per month."
Bournville School continues to offer its fuel fund for the parents of any pupil who require support with either paying energy bills or providing food.
To donate towards the school's fuel fund, contact email@example.com