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It’s not only frost settling on the ground this Winter, families on our doorstep are at immediate risk as they struggle to survive on the poverty line. It is easy to overlook the impact of extreme weather conditions in Britain as many of us simply reach to turn up our own thermostats at home. For the families we support at HHUGS however, Winter is an especially dreaded time.

The chilling reality of Winter for vulnerable UK families

–                   The drop in temperature exacerbates ongoing medical conditions

–                   Financially struggling parents cannot provide children with appropriate clothing and footwear

–                   The short daylight hours and long winter nights compound existing feelings of isolation and mental strain

–                   Making the decision between whether to “heat or eat” is a reality too many face

–                   Homes without adequate insulation are a challenge to live in at best, entirely inhospitable at worst

The UK has some of the highest levels of child hunger and deprivation amongst all the ‘rich’ nations of the world. Recent political insecurity and rising fuel prices have meant that household budgets have been stretched beyond breaking point. Food banks are unable to cope with the demand placed upon them and the stress of Winter adds to what UNICEF now calls “multi-dimensional poverty” for struggling UK families.  

When the breadwinner of a household is arrested, as the initial trauma reverberates through the household for the spouse and children, eventually follows the slow crushing reality of extreme financial hardship and social isolation. What is hard throughout all the months of the year becomes crippling during the harsh Winter months in Britain.

The families HHUGS support already live through considerable financial strain during the rest of the year. Winter only compounds the problems of poverty and lack of support. Many HHUGS families are amongst the 5.4 million in the UK experiencing “fuel poverty”, struggling to afford adequate heating, clothing or the measures to make their homes energy efficient. The families we support include the elderly and children who are particularly vulnerable as they are the first to succumb to preventable illnesses. Extreme cold and long dark nights make it more difficult for people to leave their homes during these months- exacerbating the existing feeling of loneliness and isolation. Many “invisible” ailments such as depression and anxiety return with a vengeance during this season of extended darkness and merciless cold.

Alarming facts about a bitter season

  • One person could die every seven minutes this winter. The number of excess winter deaths due to people living in cold homes surged last winter to 14,780, a 77% increase above the 5 year average. The cold weather death toll is expected to top 40,000 in 2015, the highest number for 15 years.
  • Nearly half a million people will be forced into poverty due to the benefit freeze, despite the fact more than 50% are in work.
  • 2.3 million households in England cannot afford to keep their homes warm this winter, even though 50% of those are in work.
  • Two-fifthsof people affected by fuel poverty have had to choose between heating and eating, forced to cut back on food or skip meals.
  • Two-fifths of consumers said they left their oven door open after cooking and a quarter wore a coat, scarf or hat indoors to keep warm rather than turning on their heating. Over a third (36%) of older people in the UK say they live mainly in one room to save money.
  • The 2.2 million children who form a third of the homes living in fuel poverty are twice as likely to be at risk of bronchitis and asthma and four times more at risk of developing multiple mental health problems. Cold housing also negatively affects how children perform at school and their emotional well-being.
  • The cost of cold homes to the NHS in England is estimated to be around £1.36 billion per year
  • Britain is second only to Estonia in Europe for the number of people who struggle to pay their energy bills.

A Testing Time
HHUGS has worked with such vulnerable families for years. However limited funding now threatens our capacity to reach those most in need. This year, Winter is particularly troubling as we will not be able to provide Winter allowances to families unless sufficient donations are received.

But it needn’t be this way…

How you gave Warm HHUGS last Winter

*   Sulaiman didn’t have to freeze for another night in his car because you provided a roof over his head

*   Aunty Khadijah’s home was no longer stone cold as you helped to heat her home

*   Yusuf kept warm because the coat you gave protected him from the icy cold.

Send warm HHUGS



*   £20 will provide winter clothing for a child


One in two families will be forced to cut back on clothing or food for their children to pay for heating for their homes.  

Whoever clothes (a believer) will be clothed from the green silk of Paradise.” (at-Tirmidhi)


“In Winter, they send us vouchers for clothing and sent us duvets to keep us warm. Allah knows the difference that HHUGS made to my life.”


*   £150 for the Winter – £50 a month – will support families struggling with bills


        Heating a home during long winter nights can be a costly affair. 30% of families say they avoid heating rooms like the bedroom,               bathroom or living room because they are worried about the cost and at least 30% of winter deaths are caused by cold                             homes.Contributing towards a gas and heating bill will provide great relief to a struggling family.


*   £300 for the Winter – £100 a month – will enable low income families to survive

Our lowest income families find it difficult to manage essentials like rent, food and bills for the best part of the year, so when Winter hits, their struggle becomes even more acute, necessitating further intervention from HHUGS. Two-fifths of people affected by fuel poverty have been forced to cut back on food or skip meals.


        “I have to remind myself, ‘stop eating now because you don’t have anything for tomorrow.”


              *   £500 will shelter a family for a month

               Protect a family from the elements and ensure they have a roof over their heads this Winter by contributing to their rent.

“They helped me with rent payments, without which we would be homeless. They paid for food and winter clothing. I had so much debt when I contacted HHUGS but they helped me pay off my rent arrears, my water bill and my council tax arrears, which lifted a huge burden off my shoulders.


How does Winter actually affect HHUGS families?

For those struggling to make ends meet

The house has been raided; the door, broken. The rooms, stone cold. Children are unwell. Heating bills are more than you can afford- a sparse fridge greets you every morning. You are already one of the forgotten ones- who wants to be associated with a family like yours? Isolated and with an arctic winter ahead, dread stirs up within you.

Between a smashed door you cannot afford to repair, lack of basic groceries, children with few clothes appropriate for the cold and an intense level of social isolation – Winter hits HHUGS families the hardest. Fuel costs are rising. Many will face higher bills as energy suppliers ‘make up’ for a dip in profits. Families who already struggle throughout the year now have the added pressure of inflated heating bills which they simply cannot afford. Some are being threatened with having their gas supply cut off altogether because of debts and arrears.

“I didn’t have money for food. My health began to deteriorate. Sometimes people would scream from the letter box, ‘Open the door!’ The situation became unbearable. The gas company, the electric company started to threaten me that they would cut off their services. I had no money to give to them or anything to give to them, nearly every day someone used to knock the door and of course, I was too scared to open the door for anyone. My mother and I would both be shaking. I wouldn’t be able to move in fear that someone would see me.” (Hajar, beneficiary in her 80's)

For those suffering poor health

Alongside the seasonal outbreaks of virus and illness, the onset of Winter exacerbates existing poor health- whether it is respiratory illness, osteoporosis, depression, chronic influenza, infections and weak immune systems. This often hits the very young and the over 60s the worst as they struggle to protect themselves. The number of preventable excess Winter-related deaths continue to rise every year in the UK.   The majority of excess winter deaths are caused by cardiovascular diseases – such as stroke and heart attack – and respiratory diseases, such as the flu. The cold affects vulnerable people in particular, for instance by increasing blood pressure, and causing blood to thicken, which can lead to thrombosis. It also lowers resistance to infections.


For those struggling in isolation

Often invisible to the community at large, many HHUGS families are heavily stigmatised and therefore marginalised. After all, who wants to help those tarred with the ‘terror suspect’ brush? Broken families left to fend for themselves throughout the year face the long dark nights of Winter feeling more alone than ever. Extreme cold and long winter nights makes it more difficult for people to leave their homes during these months- compounding the feeling of loneliness and isolation.   The prospect of a 50 mile average journey one way to visit a loved one in prison in these arduous conditions is nothing short of daunting. Remaining indoors within a poorly heated home is the only other option.

“In Winter, they would come all the way here at 6am in the morning, to take us there (to the prison) and would wait outside for 2-3 hours so that we get to meet our family, and then bring us back home.”

The effects of loneliness and isolation amongst the elderly can be much worse during the winter months. Extreme weather can mean poor transport links become non-existent and access to the shops and services –  and crucially, social networks and activities –  ceases. Research shows that social isolation and  loneliness increases health risks, puts older  people at greater risk of cognitive decline and makes them much more prone to depression.

Be there for those desperately searching for warmth this Winter.