ONE of England's most rural local authorities has called on the government to tackle fuel poverty.
Eddie Martin, leader of Cumbria County Council, said ministers should consider abolishing VAT on energy bills after new figures revealed that more than a quarter of the county's households are living in fuel poverty.
Households in fuel poverty are defined as those that spend more than 10% of their income on keeping warm.
In a letter to Chancellor George Osborne, Mr Martin said children growing up in poverty in Cumbria are more likely to suffer poor health, do less well in school and become the next generation of adults at risk of unemployment and long-term poverty.
Many of those children are living in fuel poverty households, and so are many older people who have been plunged into dire and even dangerous circumstances by the multiple increases in energy costs.
Latest statistics show that there are more than 61,161 households in Cumbria (2011 figures) that are currently living in fuel poverty - equal to 28 per cent of the total number of households in the county. This is a 130 per cent increase in the number of Cumbrian homes classed as being in fuel poverty since 2005.
Fuel poverty in Cumbria is particularly common in rural areas of Eden, the rural areas of north Carlisle reaching to the Scottish border, South Lakeland and urban areas within Barrow.
In the winter of 2007/08, there were 233 excess winter deaths in Cumbria and this was felt greatest in the most sparsely populated district of England - Eden.
To combat fuel poverty and drive down the number of excess winter deaths, all six district councils in the county, along with Cumbria County Council, have joined forces with e.on uk to provide insulation deals to householders.
In his letter to the Chancellor, Cllr Martin said: "It must be abundantly clear that the fuel poverty situation in Cumbria is deteriorating at an alarming and disturbing rate.
"I appreciate the current financial restrictions and the limited room for manoeuvre but would argue, nonetheless, that caring for the vulnerable in our midst must take priority.
"While other fuel poverty financial measures may well be available... I would wish to urge the government to give serious consideration to reducing the VAT on energy bills to zero per cent in the forthcoming budget round.
"It is surely the most pragmatic and direct way to assist those in Cumbria and elsewhere who desperately need our help."
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