UK Citizens on Horns of Dilemma – Eat or Heat
Charities have warned that the rising of the UK's energy price cap could mean hundreds of thousands of people having to choose between feeding their families and paying their energy bills.
Britain's energy regulator, citing the record cost of gas, is increasing the price cap for 15 million customers who do not have a fixed price contract.
The increases will be between £139 (€160) and £153 (€178), the regulator said, depending on contracts and the method of payment.
"This increase is driven by a rise of over 50% in energy costs over the last six months with gas prices hitting a record high as the world emerges from lockdown," the UK regulator said in August.
The increased price cap is likely to send an estimated 488,000 people into "fuel poverty", the End Fuel Poverty Campaign has said, for a total of 4.1 million households. "Fuel poverty" is defined as being when people are unable to afford to keep their homes adequately heated.
They estimated that another price cap hike in the spring could bring the number of households in fuel poverty to 5.2 million or 22.26% of England's households, according to an analysis also released on Friday.
Rising prices to hit families hard
Gas prices are rising globally due to higher demand as many countries exit COVID-19 lockdowns.
The UK regulator has encouraged people to "shop around" for a better deal from suppliers while acknowledging that the change could impact families hit hard by the pandemic.
But activists say that's an unrealistic request for families that may not have access to computers or have the time to compare prices.
"People on low incomes are often not in a position to do the regular kind of shopping around online and chasing the better deals, that better-off people can do.
"You may be working two jobs already and have children. You may not have Internet access," said Ruth London at campaign group Fuel Poverty Action.
"The whole solution that the government has been putting forward ... was switch to a better, cheaper supplier.
"And now that's been shown to be the really fake solution that it always was because the companies that people have switched to because they were offering much better deals have gone bust."
Several small UK gas companies stopped trading recently, facing pressure due to rising prices.
UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said two weeks ago that consumers' "gas and electricity supply will continue uninterrupted if a supplier fails."
Kwarteng said the UK was not dependent on Russia for oil and gas but rather the sources were domestic or from "reliable suppliers such as Norway".
The price cap increase, however, could hit families hard as it comes at the same time that the UK government is ending several programmes meant to help people impacted by the pandemic, including a furlough scheme and £20 universal credit.
The UK announced on Thursday a support scheme of £500 million (€581.5 million) to help vulnerable households.
Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said that while the newly announced funding could "provide some short-term relief" for families, it was no substitute for a plan to end the fuel poverty crisis and improve the energy efficiency of homes.
He called it a "panic response to negative headlines" that was a "drop in the ocean compared to what is needed."/Euronews
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