The cost of living crisis presented serious challenges for many of us and one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to fuel poverty is older people.
I am concerned that, when the weather does get colder again, vulnerable older people may be forced to choose between putting their heating on or eating in order to make ends meet. Furthermore, the Conservative Government has broken promise after promise given to pensioners adding inexcusable financial pressure upon them (see my recent Parliamentary question on this here).
We have known for months that a massive increase in energy prices was coming that will push millions of households into fuel stress. National Energy Action estimates that four million households were in fuel poverty in the UK at the start of October last year. It warns that this will have risen to 6.5 million when the price cap increased again in April. I, therefore, agree that we need action on this issue.
On 1 February, I supported a motion in the House of Commons calling for the Government to introduce a package of support for families facing the energy price crisis. This included immediately reducing VAT on energy bills to zero and smoothing the costs of energy supplier failure – together saving most households around £200 – and increasing the Warm Home Discount to £400 while extending it to nine million families. This would have taken £600 off the energy bills of those most in need. These measures would last for one year from April and would be partly funded through a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers.
Unfortunately, the Government rejected this plan. Instead, it has announced measures worth only £350 off household bills – including £200 that will not come until October and that bill payers will have to pay back as a surcharge later, and a £150 council tax rebate that many pensioners and people on low incomes will not automatically be eligible for.
With Ofgem confirming a £693 increase in the energy price cap, these measures will still leave families in Britain – including some of the poorest – paying hundreds of pounds more for their energy from April. Indeed, I know that National Energy Action has described the proposals as “woefully inadequate” and said they fail the test of protecting the most vulnerable.
I can therefore assure you that I will continue to support efforts to press the Conservative Government on this issue, as well as calls for action to keep energy bills low in the longer-term by accelerating home-grown renewables, new nuclear, and getting homes insulated. I believe that fuel poverty is a stain on our country in the 21st century and that Ministers need to do more to tackle it. I assure you that I will continue to scrutinise their policies in this area and press for them to be strengthened.
If you would like to read more on my thoughts regarding this issue I have written an article (view this here).