Britain faces 'humanitarian crisis' as energy costs soar, says health lobby

FILE PHOTO: Flames come out of a domestic gas ring of an oven in Durham, Britain, September 23, 2021.
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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain faces a "humanitarian crisis" this winter when the difficult choices forced upon low-income households by soaring energy bills could cause serious physical and mental illness, a healthcare lobby group said on Friday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resisted calls to provide more support to households struggling with higher bills, insisting his government will leave major fiscal decisions to the next prime minister who takes office in early September.

"The country is facing a humanitarian crisis," said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector.

"Many people could face the awful choice between skipping meals to heat their homes and having to live in cold, damp and very unpleasant conditions," Taylor said in a statement.

The situation could cause outbreaks of respiratory conditions, mental illness, worsen children's life chances and add to pressure on the already stretched state-run National Health Service (NHS), he added.

A spokesperson at Britain's health department said the government was already helping households through a 37-billion-pound ($44 billion) cost-of-living support package announced in May and was also working to increase NHS capacity

Britain's average annual household energy bills — covering both gas and electricity — look set to double again to more than 4,000 pounds ($4,766) by January, exacerbating inflation which already topped 10% in July.

Facing growing pressure, Johnson's government said last week it was working on a cost-of-living support package for the next prime minister to consider, while the opposition Labour Party wants to recall parliament to freeze energy bills.

The NHS Confederation said it was concerned that "fuel poverty", in the absence of further government support, would cause more deaths associated with cold homes, which are currently estimated at around 10,000 a year.

($1 = 0.8396 pounds)

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar)