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Money Expert Compares Energy Crisis Inaction To UK "Watching European Hospital Beds Fill Up" With Covid

Martin Lewis has issued a stark warning of the energy crisis (Alamy)

4 min read

Personal finance expert Martin Lewis has accused the government of inaction on soaring energy prices, and compared the "cataclysmic" scale of the crisis to watching Covid hospitalisations soar across Europe while the UK continued to allow sporting events to go ahead in 2020.

Lewis issued the warning after new forecasts predicted energy bills could reach over £4,000 in the coming winter, saying the country was facing a "national crisis".

Downing Street has insisted that outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson is unable to make policy and spending decisions, and that it is the responsibility of his successor to tackle the crisis. But leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak disagreed on whether they should urgently meet together with Johnson to discuss immediate steps to protect vulnerable households ahead of the end of the contest in early September.

On Tuesday Lewis said he was "annoyed" by the lack of action when "we know this is coming", and insisted there was precedent for the government moving more quickly than planned to avert the crisis. 

"In May, the government put forward a package of around £400 to every household, £1,200 to the poorest households to try and deal with what was going to come in October," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 

"This is a national crisis on the scale we saw in the pandemic," he added.

"We are currently in the position where we were watching the beds in European hospitals and doing nothing about it and letting people go to sporting events."

The finance expert said that while proposed meetings between Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and energy companies later today was the "right thing to do", the government needed to enact bolder measures to ensure households do not fall into poverty this winter. 

"Ultimately it is government, and government alone, who is the only one who can stop the terrible, cataclysmic risk millions of people in our country face this winter, and it needs to do so soon," said. 

Both Sunak and Truss have faced criticism over their muted responses to the crisis, with neither candidate setting out concrete steps on what they would do to help households if elected Prime Minister.

Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, who is backing Sunak's leadership bid, said ministers should "seriously consider" imposing further taxes on energy firms to offset costs.

"[Sunak] has already been responsible for additional taxation on the big oil companies, and I'm sure looking at these matters to see whether the oil and gas companies can contribute more is something we should seriously consider, but I think it is important to ensure the tax system still encourages those companies to invest because of course that is crucial for our energy security in the future," she said.

"The big oil companies are already subjected to additional taxation, additional corporation tax and the additional taxation announced by Rishi previously but yes, we do need to look at the huge levels of corporate income which are being experienced at the moment to see if those companies can play a part in further help for their customers who are suffering."

She added that the former chancellor already recognised the need for further action. "Rishi is determined that if he is Prime Minister to do as much as he can to help people through what is a crisis around the world with energy bills," she continued. 

"Sadly no government can insulate everyone from all these costs, but Rishi certainly recognises we need to do more. He's already said we should suspend VAT on energy bills, he was already the chancellor responsible for the £37bn package but yes, further payments are likely to be needed."

Lewis dismissed the proposals put forward by the leadership hopefuls, saying that Sunak would have to at least double the support package he announced in May, because the forecast for energy bill rises had already doubled.

He likened Truss' proposals for tax cuts to help families keep more of their money to putting a "sticking plaster on a gaping wound."

"With the Liz Truss case, let's be plain, tax cuts will not help the millions of the poorest in society who are making the choice between heating and eating...because they simply don't pay tax," Lewis added. 

On Tuesday PoliticsHome reported the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had already reached out to food industry groups for their assessment of how temporary blackouts during the winter months could impact food supplies.

Ministers told industry groups that blackouts were a theoretical possibility being planned for as a result of the crisis, asking them to set out which supply chains would be most heavily impacted if that occured.

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