Skip to main content

Energy Bills

Volume 587: debated on Thursday 6 November 2014

In addition to the average £50 off bills, the £140 warm home discount, and the trebling of cold weather payments that I set out in answer to the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), I point the hon. Gentleman to the big energy saving network we have established with the voluntary sector to help the most vulnerable get better energy deals. I also recommend to him the collective switching movement that I boosted when becoming Secretary of State, with the £5 million cheaper energy together fund. The Sun newspaper is now partnering with the Big Deal to help its readers come together to save money, and launched its collective energy switching scheme this week.

But the Government must go further to support ordinary families who are struggling to pay their rising energy bills, because households in my constituency and across the United Kingdom continue to suffer from fuel poverty. According to the Scottish House Condition survey, 26% of households in my constituency are in fuel poverty, and an energy price freeze will save money for 27 million households. Will the Secretary of State finally recognise that we need a proper energy bill price freeze to help those struggling with the cost of living crisis?

The hon. Gentleman has not noticed that in the competitive energy market that we have helped deliver, the large energy companies are announcing price freezes that have been delivered by competition, not regulation. Moreover, a lot of smaller independent suppliers that have come into the market are offering good deals that people can switch to and save literally hundreds of pounds. I hope he will recommend those to his constituents.

According to Government figures nearly 2.5 million households are in fuel poverty in England alone, with 1 million more in Scotland and Wales. A written parliamentary question to me on 4 September revealed that the Government’s flagship policy—the energy companies obligation—will lift just 10,000 households out of fuel poverty between 2015 and 2017. Will the Secretary of State explain why out of a budget of nearly £2 billion, and with hundreds of thousands of measures due to be installed, so few people living in fuel poverty will be helped?

Fuel poverty increased massively under the previous Government and it is falling under this Government because of a range of measures that we are taking. We are about to publish—either this year or early next year—the first fuel poverty strategy in a decade. I think we have been very active, and I am totally committed to helping people in fuel poverty.

Under Labour fuel poverty fell by 1.7 million, but this Government have changed the definition of fuel poverty—that may be the reason for the answer given by the Secretary of State. Let me tell him why the ECO has done so little for the fuel poor. It is because nearly half the funding goes to people who are not in fuel poverty, and households in fuel poverty get only one measure, which is not enough to make a difference. Despite that, the Government have announced a further £100 million for the green deal home improvement fund—another scheme that goes to people with no assessment of their ability to pay or need for energy efficiency improvements. Is that just throwing good money after bad, and will the Secretary of State make a decision today to ensure that all that funding goes to the people who need it most?

Fuel poverty increased under the previous Government under both their measures. We changed the measure of fuel poverty after an independent review because the previous Government measured fuel poverty so inaccurately that the Queen was deemed to be in fuel poverty. We thought that needed to change. Under the right hon. Lady’s approach, a lot of the money she would have spent would have been wasted—it would not have gone to people in need. Under our more accurate approach, we are ensuring that the money goes to the right people. She should know not only that more than 50% of the ECO goes to those in fuel poverty, but that because we have protected the affordable warmth part of the ECO for fuel poverty until 2017, even more people will be taken out of fuel poverty.