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Kicking the can down the street?

Response to the budget – Ollie Gray, business development director, Charis

So the results are in…

  • The Energy Bill Support Scheme EBSS will not be continued.
  • The Energy Price Cap is being kept at its current level of £2500 until the end of June, saving on average £160 per household.
  • Prepayment meter rates are set to be brought in line with those paid by direct debit customers, ending the charging of premium energy rates for those who can least afford it.

While we support these moves, there is a sense that we are kicking the can down the street. As we approach the warmer, lighter months, householders can leave the lights off for longer, switch off the central heating and hang the laundry to dry outside rather than using a dryer – but come the autumn, our bills may rise even higher than they have been this winter.

Organisations such as Charis, the Fuel Bank Foundation and National Energy Action have long been advocating the implementation of a universal social tariff to be applied to the most vulnerable households across the UK – a tariff which can be subsidised by sharing the additional burden across energy companies, government grants and wealthier households. A step towards this would be to widen the eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount.

We are calling for the government, Ofgem and the energy suppliers to proactively work towards a more sustainable solution for protecting the most vulnerable. The cost to society over the last few months has been almost incalculable, not just financially but in terms of mental health as well, with increasing rates of anxiety and depression among those trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Cold homes are also a burden on the NHS, not just affecting the physical health of those who have to live in cold homes but also those who are returning to cold homes after receiving hospital treatment, which is why Charis is in talks with several NHS trusts to set up an integrated care scheme to ensure patients have warm homes to return to.

The last 18 months have shown how the volatility of what should be a fundamental human right – to live in a warm home – can negatively affect the economy and society as a whole. We must work towards a more sustainable, stable baseline for energy to reduce those rates of mental and physical health, support businesses, and remove the fear and uncertainty in households across the UK.