The struggle to stay warm just got £125 harder
Were we really surprised that British Gas would impose a massive winter price hike for its customers?
Yesterday's announcement will mean that the company's near-on eight million customers will see their bills jump by £125 in just over a month's time. That will be a hefty burden for British Gas customers to carry – and for some it will be too great a demand.
The average price increase of 9.2 per cent is three and a half times the rate of inflation, and will put into sharp focus the growing pressures on hard-up households to survive. The move will leave average annual bills at a record high – £1,465 a year, forcing, with a depressing inevitability, many more hard-up households into fuel poverty.
Figures viewed by the Western Daily Press indicate that profits at the big six energy companies have soared by 74 per cent since 2009. Meanwhile, customers are facing annual winter increases of around 10 per cent and this looks set to continue year after year. It's obvious that we need to get control of the energy firms to ensure that people are not being left with the choice of heating or eating.
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What can be done to keep prices in check? Simpler pricing would be a good place to start and we might also attempt to break the stranglehold of the biggest energy companies by separating domestic supply from generation.
Furthermore, the Government should look long and hard at its own policies and ensure it is not adding unnecessary costs to consumers' bills.
Sadly, measures such as these may not be enough. Every year vulnerable people will turn down – or turn off – their heating in an attempt to save money. Many will do so with disastrous consequences.
Statistics suggest that in the winter of 2011-2012 there were just under 25,000 winter deaths in Britain – with around a third of them caused through a lack of adequate heating. If even one person dies because they can't afford to heat their home, then there's something very broken in this country. For that reason the Government has to get the big energy firms under control and ensure that people can afford essential gas and electricity.
This newspaper has supported campaigns pioneered by the Somerset Community Foundation – the Surviving Winter appeals – which have pooled funds to help elderly and vulnerable households keep warm when temperatures plummet and heating bills go up. The campaign is a noble one. How sad that it is required at all.