What a strange situation our government is in. As the body that creates our laws, it’s bizarrely found itself on the wrong side of it. Back in 2000 it made a commitment to outlaw fuel poverty. The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 states the government must end fuel poverty for vulnerable customers by 2010, and for everyone by 2016.
But eight years on, it’s obvious that our Gordon is nowhere near this utopian goal. In fact, things have become increasingly worse, not just for people on the breadline, whether pensioners or low income families, but for many other households. According to research by the National Housing Federation, nearly a quarter of UK households will end next year owing money to their energy company due to the hike in fuel prices. Many families, it claims, will be spending 10 per cent of their income on energy by the end of 2009. Shockingly, it says many people on low incomes will have to choose between heating or eating this winter.
And while the PM has outlined a package of measures billed as ‘worth a £1bn’ (actually £910m –where is the other £90m?!) to tackle the problem, it’s clear it isn’t going to do anything close. As Evan Davies on the Today Programme pointed out in a particularly argumentative discussion with environment secretary Hilary Benn this morning, it’s really just £300m a year over three years – small beer in financial terms.
There is, of course, no windfall tax on energy companies – something the trade unions have been shouting for but the government says could be the death knell for investment – but a focus on loft lagging and insulation. Gordon is literally trying to wrap the nation in cotton wool, aiming to insulate all households by 2020 with 50 per cent off insulation, although severe cold weather payments are also rising from £8.50 a week to £25 a week (for the disabled, pensioners and families with children under the age of five) and bills for the poorest customers will be frozen this year. But these are only paid if the temperature hits or is forecast to be below zero degrees Celsius for over seven consecutive days during 1 November to 31 March!
How many households will be able to find or afford somebody to lag their loft for them before the winter well and truly kicks in? As usual, this is all too little too late and I doubt will do much to stave off the huge fuel crisis we are sinking into.
Help the Aged’s response was suitably icy. Mervyn Kohler, the charity’s special adviser, called the measures “flimsy and failing” and “half-baked”, insisting the government needs to provide cold hard cash to tackle fuel poverty asap. And no wonder. Along with Friends of the Earth, the charity is taking the government to court for failing to end fuel poverty.
Here’s a few useful links if you’re concerned about your energy bills. A recent piece by me on cutting your bill, the Homeheat helpline’s website, uswitch, help from the Energy Saving Trust and MSN articles on saving on your energy bill.
How will you cope with your gas and electricity bills this winter? Will you have to choose between heating and eating? Do you think the government has done enough in its measures, or do you think we are to blame as energy guzzlers?