With the world in the grip of a global energy crisis, hundreds of millions of people are now facing fuel poverty this winter as they struggle to keep their homes warm. The consequences could be wide-reaching and long-lasting, finds Chris Baraniuk.
On the coldest mornings, Mica Fifield doesn’t need an alarm clock. The pain in her joints wakes her up. Her legs and knees hurt the most. Lying there, she knows that there are things to do around the house. But it’s hard to get out of bed. The heating in her terraced home in Lancashire, England, is off. The dormant radiators, pinned to their walls, sit there, chilly to the touch. There’s condensation around the windows. And the pain digs in so much more now the weather is turning.
“We don’t touch the heating whatsoever,” says Fifield, explaining how the price of her gas and electricity have gone up recently. She and her husband aren’t sure exactly what it will cost them to put the heating on and they don’t have the luxury of finding out. She just says: “We’re too scared.”
It’s still early in the autumn when we speak. And although temperatures will only drop further in the coming months, the couple currently plan to keep their heating off for the entire winter, if they can.
Fifield is 27 and suffers from a form of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which in her case causes chronic pain. She also has some other conditions including costochondritis – inflammation around the bones in her chest. It makes it feel like she’s having a heart attack, she explains. It causes pain and the sensation of something weighing down on her chest. A few years ago, she had planned to work in physical theatre and teach Zumba, but that all changed with her diagnosis. She is unable to work but receives benefits from the government while her husband works part-time and helps to care for her.
The energy crisis currently blighting the lives of so many around the world is taking its toll on some of the most fundamental activities of life. When Fifield goes to the kitchen to make dinner, for example, she rarely puts the oven on – the air fryer consumes less energy. Fifield also worries about whether she’ll be able to charge up her mobility scooter enough to get about. She likes to go to the swimming pool four times a week, since that helps her pain – and because that’s where she can get a hot shower.
Despite these challenges, Fifield doesn’t feel sorry for herself, she says. That’s not how she views her situation. But she does say she wants to raise awareness around chronic pain and how living in a cold home can make it so much worse.