Young and low-income families are facing the toughest winter since the 1850s, experts have warned.
Millions of households will be plunged into the kind of fuel poverty last seen in Dickensian times because of the relentless rise in energy bills, it is feared.
Whilst the elderly are still most at risk, up to a quarter of twenty-something homeowners could also be forced to make the “sickening choice” between heating their homes and feeding themselves.
The warnings come after some of the country’s biggest energy giants announced plans to increase prices, with the average dual-fuel bill set to rise to £1,300-a-year.
Fuel poverty occurs when homeowners spend more than 10% of their disposable incomes on heat and power.
Financial commentator and TV presenter Jasmine Birtles said young families – including single parents and those on the first rung of the property ladder – are facing the same “heat or eat” dilemma as OAPs.
Birtles, who collated the figures through her consumer website MoneyMagpie.com, said: “It is clear from my research that a quarter of low-income and young households will significantly struggle to make ends meet over the coming months.
“Like the elderly, they too will be forced to choose between heating their properties or buying food – they simply cannot afford to do both.
“This paints a very grim picture of modern Britain which, it could be argued, hasn’t been seen since the days of Charles Dickens.”
The ‘big six’ energy firms provoked fury earlier this month after announcing up to a 10 per cent rise in energy bills.
British Gas announced a dramatic increase of six per cent of gas and electricity prices, while nPower raised its prices by up to 9.1 per cent. Both will come into effect from next month.
The other major energy firms are also expected to raise their prices before Christmas.
Birtles, the presenter of ‘Britain’s Debt Crisis’ for Channel 4, and UKTV’s ‘Doctor Dosh’, said struggling families can cut outgoings by up to 20 per cent by following a few simple steps.
“Homeowners can make significant savings if they know where to look,” she said. “Using leftovers, and shopping at discount websites can slash food bills dramatically.
“Additional fuel savings can be made by buying oil at discounted prices through a local syndicate, hanging thicker curtains to conserve heat, and stopping all door and window draughts.”
Unions and consumer groups have attacked British Gas and called on the Government to take urgent action to tackle rising fuel prices.
Speaking last week, the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “With winter approaching, low-waged people will now be terrified about how they are going to find another #80
“Money from the poor is going to the pockets of Centrica shareholders. This is further shameful abuse by out of control, greedy fuel companies, sitting on piles of profit.
“Alongside the Government’s punish the poor strategy, millions of households will be forced further and further down the path to poverty.”