MPs round on Government over gas crisis as research shows 15% of Sunderland homes in fuel poverty
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Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has admitted hard-pressed families will face a “difficult winter” with rising bills because of the a spike in global gas prices which has left energy companies struggling and had a knock-on effect on food supplies.
Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures show that 19,290 households out of 126,427 – 15% – were already classed as being in fuel poverty in 2019.
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, led the attack.
She said: “Poverty is a political choice, and Ministers are choosing not to protect the living standards of millions of people in this country.
“Rising energy costs are coming as the Government gets set to cut £20 from Universal Credit, leaving half of working-age families with children in Houghton and Sunderland South facing an even sharper hit.
"The Conservatives are making it worse with a tax rise on working people through National Insurance.
“There is nothing to stop the Government changing direction. The time for action is now.’
Easington MP Grahame Morris said: “The Government have lost control and the public are unaware of the crisis we could face this winter.
“The Universal Credit cut means the lights will go out for families unable to afford gas and electric for the meter. Children will go hungry, and families will have to pick and choose what they can take from the foodbank when they have no cooking facilities.
"The Conservative Party have been in power for over a decade, and we are facing soaring bills, empty shelves, and bailouts to prop up failing energy companies.”
Washington and Sunderland West MP, Sharon Hodgson, said: “I am incredibly concerned about the precarious situation facing businesses and families. This failure in long-term government planning over the last decade has left us exposed and vulnerable as a country.”
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, said: “The Government’s choices have led us into a situation where energy prices, food prices, childcare prices are rising, at the same time as they are cutting Universal Credit payments.
“It is simply not good enough that the Government are only just reacting to the consequences of their own decision making. We need solutions fast.”
Mr Kwarteng admitted the combination of rising gas prices and the looming £20 a week cut to Universal Credit was a “difficult situation” and said he had spoken to Cabinet colleagues including Chancellor Rishi Sunak about the pressures facing households.
The Government and industry regulator Ofgem have agreed the price cap on energy will remain in place despite concerns about the impact it will have on firms left unable to pass on costs to customers.
Mr Kwarteng said: “I’ve been very clear that the energy price cap is staying even though some energy companies are asking for it to be removed, I’ve been very clear that it’s staying, so we’re protecting customers there.
“We’ve also got the warm home discount, winter fuel payments, which are again focused on the most vulnerable customers.
"So, we’re completely focused on helping vulnerable customers through this winter, particularly with regard to energy prices.”
On the issue of Universal Credit, he said: “It’s a difficult situation. It could be a very difficult winter.
“That’s why, as energy minister, I’m very focused on helping people that are fuel poor.”
The rise in energy costs has led to a crisis in the food supply chain because of a shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2), produced as a by-product in fertiliser plants.
The gas is used to stun animals prior to slaughter and also forms part of the protective packaging used to keep foods fresh.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said shoppers may notice that products are missing from supermarket shelves “in about 10 days”.
Ministers and industry figures have said there is no risk of the lights going out this winter, with energy supplies secure despite the rising costs.