THOUSANDS of children in Wearside and Durham are at risk of health problems as rocketing fuel bills leave families in the cold, claims a charity.
Save the Children says the majority of North East parents who cannot afford to heat their homes are not getting the help they need from energy suppliers.
It said a Government scheme to help with bills reaches just three per cent of families at risk of fuel poverty, because energy companies have not committed enough funds this year.
The charity claims research shows growing up in cold, damp homes can slow children’s development, worsen long-term problems like asthma and lead to rises in hospital admission rates.
Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said: “It’s unacceptable that so many of the North East’s poorest families will get no help heating their homes this winter because energy companies have not put up nearly enough money.
“Without this help the choice for parents is stark: cut back on food, get into debt or risk their children’s health because they can’t afford to keep them warm.
“The scheme urgently needs millions more from the energy companies.”
The charity said nationally 800,000 of the poorest families qualify for a £120 discount on fuel bills under the Warm Homes Discount scheme, but a funding shortfall means only 25,000 families will get it.
At least 41,520 North East families with children are eligible.