Challenge Poverty Week: Fuel Poverty

We’ve witnessed a dramatic rise in use of food banks across Fife over the past year – and a change in the demographics accessing them.

Volunteers report more and more pensioners are coming forward seeking help, because for many elderly residents they face a stark choice between eating and heating over winter.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation pensioner poverty dropped from 28 per cent in 1994 to as low as 13 per cent by 2011 thanks in large part to Gordon Brown’s help for poorer pensioners. But, since welfare changes were introduced in 2015, pensioner poverty is increasing again.

Labour is determined to fight any attempt to scrap the triple lock for state pensioners – a move which would see the poorest pensioner lose around £800 a year.

It’s not difficult to imagine the misery which fuel poverty brings and the asthma and heart conditions  which can result for vulnerable people living in a cold, damp environment. Low indoor temperatures contributed to a tally of 2,720 people who died in Scotland over the winter of 2016/17.

The most recent statistics in Scotland, dating back to 2016, state that 26.5 per cent – or 649,000 households – are affected by fuel poverty.

A household is considered to be in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain a 21 degree heat in the main room heating regime, it would be required to spend more than 10% of its income on all household fuel use.

If over 20% of income is required, then this is termed as being in extreme fuel poverty.

The numbers are partly attributable to a rise in house fuel prices. For example, in 2007 the UK average for annual gas charges was £441 and electricity stood at £415.

In Scotland that annual figure today stands nearer to £640 for gas and £636 for electricity.

I have long supported a cap on energy price rises and believe we should go even further to lower bills to nationalise energy companies.

In 2016, a Competition and Markets Authority investigation into the energy market found that 70% of big six customers are on expensive default standard variable tariffs and that households paid £1.4 billion a year more for energy than they would have if the market was working properly.

Last month Energy regulator Ofgem announced plans for a new price which could save people on poorer deals £75 on but this is simply a temporary sticking plaster – it is vital that the Government also recognises the need to do much more to fix the energy market.

At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto that promised to introduce an immediate emergency price cap to ensure that the average dual-fuel household energy bill remains below £1,000 per year, while we move to a fairer system for bill payers.

If such a cap had been in place since 2010, it would have saved the average consumer over £1,149 so far and a further £142 per year in future. I also committed to bringing energy back into public ownership, to make it more affordable and accountable to local communities.

I am concerned that the Government’s lack of action to tackle our broken energy market has allowed the big six to make ever greater profits, while customers continue to have to pay more.

The energy companies have failed to deliver the goods – it’s time to bring the companies back into public hands.