Let them eat cake?
This winter, working-age individuals and families on low incomes are facing a perfect storm of cuts to benefits, poor earnings growth, the roll-out of universal credit, and above-inflation rises in the cost of essential goods and services (including energy). New research released today by NEA estimates that over one million families in England alone are facing a gap of almost £800 each month between their income and the amount that they need to spend to meet even a basic standard of living.
£800 a month. That’s an additional £9,000 a year that an average lone parent in fuel poverty would have to find to achieve even the minimum quality of life for their family. In reality most families are unlikely to be able to make up this shortfall, so what ‘choices’ are they left with?
They could cut down on the amount of food that they buy, going from three meals a day to one or two cold ones, even though increases the likelihood of their family being ill.
They could only heat one room of the house, although the children may struggle at school because there isn’t somewhere warm and quiet to do their homework.
They could keep using old unsafe boilers, or ancient electric heaters, even though it could put their family at risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
They could stop using their heating altogether, although it will make their home damp and worsen breathing conditions such as asthma.
They could cancel their mobile phone contract, although they won’t then be able to speak to their family, friends, GP, job centre, support helplines, or potential employers.
They could stop paying for childcare and transport, but then they wouldn’t be able to work.
Or they could not pay bills or rent, use credit cards and payday loans, and risk debt and homelessness.
Alternatively, the Government could take action now to help people this winter, and prevent any more tragedies like that of Elaine Morall, a mother of four who was found dead in a freezing home earlier this month. In particular;
- DWP could pause the acceleration in rolling out universal credit, listen to problems clients are experiencing with the programme and fix unresolved issues, including reducing the six-week waiting period.
- HM Treasury could reverse the freeze on working-age benefits and tax credits and uprate them with inflation.
- The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy could reduce the threshold for suppliers to have to deliver the Warm Home Discount (WHD) to low-income and vulnerable energy consumers to 50,000 customers and, in future scheme years, safeguard the industry initiatives component of WHD which supports households to reduce fuel debt and alleviate fuel poverty.
- Ofgem could work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to use data-sharing powers under the Digital Economy Act to extend the vulnerable customer safeguard tariff to all low-income and vulnerable energy households eligible for the Warm Home Discount (WHD) Broader Group (approximately 2 million). Until then, obligated suppliers could consider voluntarily applying the cap to customers on standard variable tariffs not in receipt of WHD but with identified financial vulnerabilities.
- HM Treasury could use the Autumn Budget 2017 to establish a national boiler scheme providing emergency assistance to low-income households without a functioning heating system due to a broken and/or unsafe boiler that cannot be replaced under other programmes.
During our Warm Homes Campaign we will be adding to the growing cacophony of voices protesting against the injustices faced by low income and vulnerable households. To learn more and support the campaign click here.
Maria Wardrobe, Director of Communications and External Relations