Fuel bills announcement
I welcome today’s Government announcement of a £1billion package to help families cut their fuel bills. These measures will make a real difference for people – including many of my constituents in Northfield. I am particularly pleased that these programmes will be funded primarily by a £910 million contribution from the energy companies.
As you may know, I am one of several Labour MPs who have supported the idea of a windfall tax. I still think there is merit in considering this idea but I am pleased that the Government is taking action that will not just help people now, but also in the years to come.
As I have said before, we need to be doing two things. First we need to provide immediate help to those on low incomes who simply cannot afford their fuel bills. The increase in cold weather payments announced today – along with the increases in the Winter Fuel Payments announced in the Budget in March – will be vital in making sure that vulnerable people are able to cope with fuel bills this winter.
Second, in the longer term, we also need to improve energy efficiency and the standard of housing – so that we can both reduce fuel bills and reduce carbon emissions. Today’s investment in energy efficiency initiatives is a key part of this and will complement work that is already taking place – such as that undertaken by the Northfield Energy Efficiency Partnership in my own constituency.
There is of course more that needs to be done. Ofgem, the energy regulator, is currently reviewing the competitiveness of the UK energy market. It is due to report at the end of the month.
When energy bills are so high and look like staying so, and energy companies are making such large profits, I think it is important to look again at how pricing mechanisms can best be regulated. Clearly the energy companies need to have the means to make the sustained investment that is required. But they should also pay a fair share of the cost of keeping people warm in their own homes, both in the bills they are asked to pay and the way their homes are made more energy efficient. And we need to make sure that the companies cannot simply pass on to their customers the cost of the improvements that the Government is rightly asking them to make.
Everyone should have the right to affordable warmth.