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Fuel Poverty

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 6 June 2013

Recently published statistics show a modest fall in fuel poverty in 2011 compared with 2010, from 4.75 million UK households to 4.5 million UK households. This is welcome, but we are determined to do more. Our comprehensive policy package includes targeted energy efficiency measures under the green deal and the energy company obligation, direct bill rebates under the warm home discount and, of course, measures through the Energy Bill to back Ofgem’s proposals to simplify the market.

Under the previous Labour Government, the number of people in fuel poverty fell by 1.75 million. In the past two years, the number of households in fuel poverty has gone up from one in five to one in four. When next year’s figures come out, will the number of people in fuel poverty be higher or lower than when Labour left office?

The hon. Lady will know that during the previous Parliament, when Labour was in office, fuel poverty grew in every single year and that, according to the latest figures, it has now gone down. In many ways this is a rather odd debate. The Government commissioned Professor Hills to review how we measure fuel poverty and he has come up with proposals that have gained wide-scale acceptance. We have consulted on them and will respond shortly to that consultation. We believe that the old measurements of fuel poverty, which are still in use, need radical reform so that we can better target fuel poverty policy.

The problem with Government measures such as putting the consumer on to the cheapest tariff—if that ever happens—is that they will not make much difference if the tariff prices themselves and energy prices are high. The main beneficiaries of the green deal are not people on low incomes, but people who will be able to take up the arrangements. What is the Secretary of State doing to help people on low incomes who face high energy bills now, particularly given the high fuel prices over the past few months?

We have a whole range of measures. For a start, the warm home discount helps more than 2 million low-income people, including 1 million of the poorest pensioners, by taking £130 off their bill directly. Schemes such as collective switching mean that we are helping people club together to exercise power in the market to get better rates. The simplification of tariffs proposed by Ofgem will mean greater competition and choice for people. We have a whole range of measures. On energy efficiency, the energy company obligation, through the affordable warmth and carbon saving communities schemes, is helping people in fuel poverty.

The Secretary of State clearly thinks he is doing a great job on fuel poverty. In which case, why does his own Department’s public attitudes survey show that concern about energy bills has risen from 49% last year to 59% this year? Is not this another example of a Government who are out of touch with ordinary people?

I am extremely concerned by energy bills. We need to do as much as we possibly can and some of our new policies will help people. I say to the Labour party that it is this coalition Government who are reforming tariffs to take away the confusion and complexity that the previous Government failed to tackle, who are looking into collective switching to help people get a better deal from energy companies, and who are getting more competition in our energy market. We are taking a whole range of measures to help consumers.

Despite the initiatives that the Secretary of State has referred to, in the real world bills are going up and the energy companies are making massive profits. Thousands of my constituents are having difficulties paying their bills. When did the Secretary of State last meet the energy companies, and did he raise with them the amount of profit they are making and what was their answer?

I think I met the big six together in one group last month. I will have to clarify the date on which we spoke. We discussed a number of issues. I made it clear to them that competition and consumer service are critical. One of the best ways to make sure that companies make reasonable profits is through healthy competition.