The energy crisis won’t end when winter does – the Chancellor must make sure no one is left behind
Volatile energy prices and the soaring cost of living have shaken households across the country. We’re helping almost two people every minute with crisis support.
People who have never seriously struggled before are now urgently seeking our advice. Families are going without food and other essentials, while those with health conditions are shivering in cold homes and switching off vital equipment to save money.
We all know this crisis won’t disappear in April. The Autumn Statement is a key opportunity for the Chancellor to provide stability, support and reassurance – both now and for the future.
The support the government announced in May to help people on the lowest incomes was very welcome, but only temporary. As the first payments came through for those on low incomes in July, we saw a dip in demand for food bank vouchers and other means of crisis support. But numbers soared straight back up again after a couple of weeks.
Millions of people will still need additional support – and not just people on the lowest incomes
Warning lights are still flashing red. This year, we’ve already seen more people who couldn’t afford to top up their prepay meters than the whole of the past five years combined. Alarmingly, the number of people in work seeking crisis support has more than doubled in the last two years.
Though the Chancellor has promised further targeted support, the details are still unknown. It’s vital that it meets the scale of the challenge, reaching everyone who needs it.
It’s been suggested that the energy price guarantee could be set at £3,100 from April. If that proves to be the case, we’ve calculated that close to six-in-10 households will be spending at least 10 per cent of their income on energy – a widely used indicator that people are in fuel poverty. It’s clear that millions of people will still need additional support – and not just people on the lowest incomes.
With people already struggling and worried about the future, the Chancellor must bring in further support now to get people through the winter and continue this from April. He must also guarantee that benefits will be uprated in line with inflation to protect people in receipt of them from spiralling further into hardship.
As the country faces years of high and volatile energy prices, a long-term plan – as well as short-term intervention – will be essential. At Citizens Advice, we’re working with the Social Market Foundation and Public First to develop proposals that will help consumers afford their energy bills in the months and years to come.
With crisis can come opportunity. By including a renewed focus on energy efficiency in the Autumn Statement the government could set us on the right path for the future.
Citizens Advice research shows some families are seeing nearly a third of their energy bill go straight out of the window because their homes are poorly insulated. But too many can’t afford to make the changes their homes desperately need. By supporting people to insulate their homes, the government can reduce our dependency on gas, improve the nation’s energy security and ultimately bring down our bills.
Though insulation and other green home improvements will take time, there are quick things people can do to make their homes warmer and more efficient. A government-led campaign to raise awareness of how to do this is urgently needed.
Tackling this crisis is going to be a marathon. Forward-planning, as well as immediate action, will be needed to get us over the finish line. And there’s no time to waste. The Chancellor has a historic chance to lead the country through it. He must make sure no one is left behind.
Dame Clare Moriarty, CEO of Citizens Advice.
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