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Certain groups are more at risk than others: for example, neonates and children under the age of 4 years, elderly people on low incomes, unemployed men and women under the age of 25 on income support, the physically and mentally disabled and those who are chronically ill. These groups are vulnerable on one or more of several counts: low income, impaired mobility, spending much of the day at home and/or the presence of a medical condition which lowers immunity. Studies have shown that people who live in adverse housing conditions and have been hospitalized are more likely to have to return to hospital than those whose houses are more comfortable.

In addition to existing claimants, there are large numbers of people who are eligible for means-tested benefits but do not claim them. Non-claimants could represent another 1 million households, bringing the total in poverty to 9 million households. Finally, there is a category that could be called the ‘nearly poor’—those households that just fail to qualify for a means-tested benefit, but who are also unable to afford adequate warmth to a considerable degree. This group cannot be quantified at all because, for fuel poverty purposes, there is an interaction between income and the energy efficiency of the dwelling.

Low-income households are different from the average: their homes are less energy efficient and more expensive to keep warm. The temperatures inside these poorer homes are consistently lower than those in the homes of better-off families, even though low-income households have to be in the house for more hours a day and should be recording warmer homes. Those that need the most warmth have the least money and have to buy an expensive product. The poor are becoming poorer, certainly relative to the rest of the population, but often in absolute terms.

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