More than 3 million families in the United Kingdom are likely to cut back on food so they can pay their energy bills this winter.

And more than half of the 5 million families that are likely to turn their heating down because of the cost are worried that their children will become ill as a result, according to a nationwide survey jointly produced by The Children’s Society with the Daily Mirror.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, calls the situation for these children “a scandal” and said that it is a duty for this society to care for one another, whether they are young or old.

Cold conditions can increase the chances of children having respiratory and other health problems.

In extreme cases, health conditions associated with the cold may contribute to children’s deaths.

New figures from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics show there were 110 more deaths among children in winter 2011-12 than at other points that year.

For many families, turning the heating on is driving them into debt. About 500,000 families said they would likely have to take a loan out this winter in order to help them with the costs of heating their homes.

The Children’s Society is calling on the British government to help tackle this problem by making the Warm Home Discount – a $220 (135 pounds) discount on energy bills for low income families – automatically available to all families with children living in poverty.

Its new report, “Behind Cold Doors: The Chilling Reality for Children in Poverty,” shows that nearly 2 million poor children are currently living in families who do not get this crucial support.

An estimated 3.6 million children say their homes are too cold, and 1.3 million said their homes had damp or mould.

“It is a scandal that millions of children in this country are being forced to live in cold, damp homes,” Sentamu said. “Parents are being forced to choose between the basics – food or warmth.”

“In a society where all people are valued, whether they are old or young, it is our duty to care for one another. It’s never been more important for families in poverty to receive this vital support,” he said. “This report from the Children’s Society gets it right. I hope it leads to a change of heart. All children are our national treasure.”

The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Matthew Reed, said, “It is unacceptable that any child in this country is growing up in a cold home, the scale of the problem, as these figures show, is shocking.”

“It’s alarming that 3 million families will be cutting back on food so they can pay their energy bills this winter,” he said. “A new ‘heat or eat’ generation is growing up in Britain as families desperately struggle to make ends meet. But something can be done about this immediately. Urgent action is needed now to make sure all children in poverty can have a warm home.”

A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times of Great Britain and is used with permission.

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