Tory minister no-showing the energy bills inquiry is more proof the government couldn’t care less about poor households this winter

Gas stovetop cooker.
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On 13 September, the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee held an evidence session for its inquiry into preparations for winter. The committee grilled representatives of Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) on actions the energy regulator was taking to ensure households would not face unaffordable energy bills this winter.

Originally, the committee was also due to question the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s (DESNZ) new lead minister, Claire Coutinho. However, Coutinho pulled out of the meeting.

This had committee chair and SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil wondering why the minister had ditched the session. During the meeting, MacNeil said that:

She was meant to be here today, but for various reasons—perhaps a lack of confidence or not being on top of her brief or whatever—she is not. I am not sure, but we are very disappointed

Less volatile market, but energy bills still sky-high

It’s perhaps not surprising the energy minister ditched the session in light of the stark warnings from the government’s arms-length energy regulator. Chief executive of Ofgem Jonathan Brearley appeared before the committee and sketched out the dire situation for households this winter. Brearley opened with what he described as the “positive news” – namely that:

the market is more stable; it is less volatile, and prices are lower than they were this time last year.

By comparison, he also said that:

Read on...

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This time last year, we were anticipating and seeing prices at around £4,200 a year without Government support.

June saw a 25.2% drop in gas prices. The Office for National Statistics largely attributed this to Ofgem lowering the energy price cap that month. Ofgem has set the energy price cap at £1,923 for the period between October and December. This is down on the £2,074 between July and September.

As fuel poverty non-profit National Energy Action (NEA) noted, however:

This is still around £700 more than in October 2021, when the energy crisis began when 4.5 million UK households were in fuel poverty.

Energy bills to rise without action

Moreover, Brearley’s assessment quickly took a negative turn. Crucially, he warned that some households could actually face higher bills than last year. This is because the government has reduced financial support. Brearley stated that:

That support is not available, so for many people, their bills will be very similar this year and possibly worse for some than they were last year.

Specifically, the government has scrapped the £400 winter discount on energy bills. In addition, it scaled back its Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) support scheme.

Invariably, energy price hikes will hit the poorest households hardest. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has estimated for example that:

Fewer than 5m of the UK’s 28m households could be classed as being in the “energy elite” and unaffected by the current energy bills crisis. Around 8m have to borrow money to pay their energy bills and over 1m have disconnected for periods this year.

Moreover, rising energy bills have significant financial impact on chronically ill people, causing increasing debt risk. Fuel poverty also literally kills terminally ill patients faster.

Plan to abandon the poorest households

On the news Coutinho would not be attending, committee chair MacNeil also remarked how:

it is disappointing that the Government can find nobody from the ESNZ department to answer our questions and demonstrate that they do have a plan to help the many facing up to an incredibly harsh time this winter.

As the government withdrew its support for the EPG in April, it announced a new targeted cost of living payment to fill the gap. However, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) found that 1.7 million people in fuel poverty could miss out on the support.

Of course, as the Canary’s Steve Topple has pointed out before, the Tories do have a plan. Simply put, they plan not to help households out of fuel poverty. Topple argued that energy prices are the “latest weapon” in the Tories’ class war, in that:

the rich and powerful are knowingly doing things that will suppress the poorest people and keep them in their poverty-stricken place.

Evading scrutiny

Moreover, a previous inquiry session laid out clearly the devastating impact the Tories’ class war has had on marginalised communities. On 6 September, the committee met with non-profit groups. A number of organisations provided evidence of where the government had fallen short last winter.

Notably, National Energy Action (NEA) estimated that the government had failed to reach over a million vulnerable households with vital financial aid. It said that this meant the government didn’t give out £440m allocated towards energy support. Meanwhile, the End Poverty Coalition calculated that cold, damp homes killed nearly 5,000 more people in winter 2022/23 than the average.

The committee also questioned Ofgem on the failures of the government’s warm homes discount scheme. Committee chair Angus Brendan MacNeil grilled Ofgem about a damning BBC revelation on the plans. The broadcaster found that it had failed to deliver support to over 700,000 people out of the 900,000 eligible.

At this point, MacNeil cast some shade at Coutinho, noting that:

We would ask the Secretary of State to answer that herself if she were here.

Giving up the pretense entirely

Given these failures of her department, is it any wonder the new energy minister evaded scrutiny? Regardless, the situation spoke volumes of the government’s concern for the most vulnerable this winter.

In February, regarding the plans to cut the EPG, the Canary’s Alex/Rose Cocker wrote that the govenment seems to be:

giving up the pretense that it cares about people being able to afford necessities such as cooking and staying warm.

Coutinho’s absence from the inquiry session brought this point home starker than ever. If the minister for Energy Security and Net Zero can’t even show up to an inquiry to discuss plans for energy bills, she sure as hell isn’t going to turn up for the poorest households when winter starts to bite.

Feature image via Lisafern/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, image in the public domain.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Everyone who is suffering under Tory rule, knows that they don’t care about us.

      It’s not long since the Tories refused to attend the UN’s enquiry into their treatment of the Disabled and Chronically Ill – and that isn’t the first UN enquiry that they’ve ignored the results of!

      The only reason that the Tories get into power, is to turn back the clock on Laws which they deem too ‘costly’ for them – ie: Tax Laws which ask them to pay what’s fair, or Laws which help improve the lot of the working classes – which directly affects their profit margin, of course!

      They really won’t be content, until theyve dragged the UK, kicking and screaming, back to the way of life that the working poor endured in Victorian Britain!

      They would prefer to see Work Houses homing all the disabled and chronically ill, instead of allowing them the small amount of dignity they have right now, being able to live in their own homes.

      But that dignity is slowly being torn away, and by a class of people who deem us ‘unworthy to live’; to be ’empty eaters’; to be ‘skivers, and workshy’!

      Our plight has been all but ignored for decades, now – but others are now feeling the lash of the whip, and so they started an outcry against their treatment by the Tories.

      If they had protected US, decades ago, by sorting out the Tory’s slow, but steady, killing off of our Laws and Liberties, we might not be suffering as badly today – but they didn’t, and now everyone the Tories deem ‘unworthy of their charity’, are feeling the same, awful, reality that we’ve felt for so very long.

      I just hope that this teaches all of those who doff their caps to their so-called ‘betters’, that the Tories are actually the lowest of the Low, and need to be stopped, before they totally destroy everyone’s way of life!

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