Forced to choose between heating and eating: UK families hit hard this winter

“MUSLIM CHARGED FOR TERROR OFFENCES”. The newspaper headlines are constantly assaulted by terror-related cases. It has become our daily ritual to be bombarded by these stories on our commute to work, to feel a little deflated and then turn over to the next page…

Yet, have we ever considered what happens to the families of those detained? The blameless wives, the frail parents, the innocent children, that are left behind? Very little, or no thought is given to them.

Families just like our own that have lost their sole breadwinner, children without fathers, wives without husbands. They are estranged from family, ostracised by friends and stigmatised by society as a whole. Next time you read another story about a raid, or a person held on terror-related charges, take a moment to reflect on what happens to the families that are left behind.


Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS) is the only UK registered charity to provide support and empowerment to such families affected by counter-terrorism and national security legislation. For every person detained, an entire family is left traumatised, isolated and vulnerable.

Whilst recognising that those suffering around the world and the tremendous work of charities supporting Muslims in Syria, Palestine and Burma to name a few, we should not be negligent of those within our immediate locality – families within the UK that are struggling with basic necessities.

The families HHUGS support are amongst the 2.3 million households in England who cannot afford to keep their homes warm this winter. Almost a third of homes in fuel poverty are those with children, who are subsequently twice as likely to be at risk of asthma and four times more at risk of developing multiple health problems compared to those who do not.

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The rights that neighbours have over us has been greatly emphasised in our Prophetic tradition, yet 1 in 4 of our neighbours are forced to choose between food and heating. Winter is a particular period of hardship for these families.

Grace, the mother of one prisoner said: “After paying rent, I’m left with nothing. I would show you my kitchen cupboard now but I’m embarrassed. I have to remind myself, ‘stop eating now because you don’t have anything for tomorrow’.”

Winter and financial hardship

Living under continuous financial strain, during winter they struggle to afford heating with escalated energy bills, or to buy a coat for their growing children. About half a million British families said that they are likely to take out a loan this winter in order to cover the costs of heating their home. Instead they are wrapping up under a blanket on their twin mattress, however temperatures are dropping so quickly, a blanket isn’t enough!

Many of our families are already grappling under the weight of considerable debts. All these practical needs are exacerbated by mental health issues which studies have found are also compounded during the colder months.
The elderly and young children are particularly vulnerable.

Hajar, a woman in her 80’s who was herself previously detained despite her age and fragility, explains, “I didn’t have money for food. My health began to deteriorate. Sometimes people would scream from the letter box, ‘Open the door!’ The situation became unbearable. The gas company, the electric company started to threaten me that they would cut off their services. I had no money to give to them or anything to give to them. Nearly every day someone used to knock the door and of course, I was too scared to open the door for anyone. My mother and I would both be shaking. I wouldn’t be able to move in fear that someone would see me.” When it comes to gas and electricity costs, a business electricity comparison site could be the solution needed to save some money. Many businesses are switching their energy provider, and saving money while doing so.

Warm HHUGS campaign

The Warm HHUGS campaign, running now for its fourth year, aims to relieve some of the hardship faced by these families. Last winter, the charity supported over a hundred families, providing 189 children with winter clothing and distributing over £21,000, additional to the regular support families received, to cover the costs of energy bills.

For Hajar, HHUGS’ intervention was a life-line, as her son described, “Within a week of contacting HHUGS, they had given a voucher card for food, paid for her gas and electric, because she had literally been threatened that they will cut gas and electric off. May Allah reward the brothers and sisters and the charity. They supported my mother a lot.”

Another mother described how HHUGS took care of all their essential needs. She said: “They helped me with rent payments, without which we would be homeless. They paid for food and winter clothing. I had so much debt when I contacted HHUGS but they helped me pay off my rent arrears, my water bill and my council tax arrears, which lifted a huge burden off my shoulders.”

The despair felt by families is heightened during these dark, cold days, compounding their isolation. It is in winter that they need the most help. So far with the £13,000 generous donations from the community, 65 children have been clothed adequately to protect them from the cold, and 12 families have been kept warm and secure.
But HHUGS now have only 13 days remaining to raise the outstanding £45,000 required to ensure their beneficiaries’ needs are met. That’s 143 children who still need our help. A mere £20 a month provides winter clothing for a child – such an insignificant amount for most us, an amount we can easily spend on a meal out.

Just £150 keeps a family warm this winter by covering their fuel bills, but there are still 53 families in need of our help – put plainly, that’s 53 families who still have to choose between heating and eating this winter. Furthermore, this could impact the charity’s ability to support families in the coming months. If their resources are seriously depleted, this threatens to put their future operations on hold.

To sustain the charity’s operations and enable them to support families in future, HHUGS needs your support. Martin Luther King Junior reminded us of the value of altruism over apathy when he said, “Life’s persistent and most urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” The question we must ask ourselves is what are we doing to help these marginalised families in our midst? If the answer is resoundingly negative, then please do something to change that today: Warm up a home this winter with HHUGS

To contribute to the Warm HHUGS campaign you can donate online, by phone (0207 733 2104) or by texting “WARM95 £10” to 70070.

You can also register for HHUGS’ annual Winter Walk, Walking in Their Shoes, taking place in London’s Richmond Park on 25th February – an enjoyable day out for all family, providing invaluable support to the most vulnerable families through your fundraising efforts.

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