5.5 million households live in ‘fuel poverty’

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THE number of UK households in fuel poverty rose by one million in 2009 to 5.5 million.

The figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) predict that the numbers for 2010 and 2011 will rise markedly because of the continuing large increases in the price of energy.

A household is described as being in fuel poverty when it has to spend more than 10% of its income keeping warm. 21% of UK homes were in this position in 2009.

Most of the fuel-poor homes were ‘vulnerable’, defined by the government as ones containing the elderly, children, or someone who is disabled or suffering from a long-term illness.

Between 2004 and 2009, energy prices increased. Domestic electricity prices increased by over 75%, while gas prices increased by over 122% over the same period, the DECC said.

The DECC has admitted that despite increased effort and money being put into insulating homes to make them more energy efficient, the benefit of these initiatives was being swamped by the effect of rising fuel prices.

Meanwhile, the numbers in fuel poverty are set to rocket after the announcement of the latest heating price rises.

British Gas, owned by Centrica, is putting up its domestic gas and electricity prices from August 18.

Gas bills will rise by an average of 18% and electricity bills by an average of 16%.

The change will affect nine million households, with the average dual-fuel customer paying an extra £190 a year.

British Gas managing director Phil Bentley said its bills were being driven higher by the fact that the company buys 50% of its gas on the international wholesale market.

‘We are buying in a global energy market and have to pay the market rate,’ he said.

He added: ‘British Gas customers will have seen their bills shoot up by £258 or 25% within a year.’

Earlier, in June, Scottish Power was the first of the big-six energy suppliers to announce another set of price increases. It said it would raise the cost of gas by 19% and the cost of electricity by 10% at the start of August.

Scottish Power said 2.4 million households in the UK would see their bills increase.

Raymond Jack, Scottish Power’s UK retail director, said: ‘Wholesale prices for gas and electricity have increased significantly since the end of last year and continuing unrest in global energy markets means future prices are volatile.’

These developments in the crisis of capitalism will mean that millions more people will be plunged into fuel poverty and will have to make a choice between buying food for themselves and their families or falling ill in freezing homes.

This crisis is being made much worse by the numbers of people who are losing their jobs, and going from wages onto miserly benefits, while millions of others are having their wages frozen or cut, at the same time as the RPI inflation rate of 5%, and VAT at 20%, is pushing food prices through the roof.

There is only one solution to this crisis and this is the trade unions taking action to defend their members and communities.

They must draw up a trade union cost-of-living index based on the rise in the cost of working class necessities, and insist that wages, pensions and benefits rise monthly at the same rate as their cost-of-living index.

They must oppose all sackings, and demand an energy price freeze, and the nationalisation of the oil and gas industry under workers’ control.

The nuclear power programme that will double energy costs must be scrapped, and replaced by the redevelopment of the mining industry based on clean coal technology and the vast UK coal reserves.

This is the only way to prevent millions going hungry in freezing homes, which seems to be the coalition’s perspective for the working class and the poor.