Government urged to support struggling households and cut fossil fuel use as bills soar
Soaring energy bills could leave one in three households in fuel poverty, and action is needed to help the poorest families, 33 environmental and social organisations have warned.
As well as protecting vulnerable households, the tens of campaign groups have urged the government to cut gas use and shift to renewable energy sources.
The call comes ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Spring Statement - a 'mini-budget' given annually in the House of Commons - and government plans to bolster the UK’s energy independence in the face of rocketing gas costs, driven by reduced supply, rising demand and the war in Ukraine.
A letter to the Chancellor, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng calls on them to “ensure the upcoming energy independence plan protects vulnerable households, lowers bills, tackles the climate emergency, addresses air pollution, and gets the UK off gas”.
Measures to protect families from climbing costs and cut climate and air pollution must be backed up by the necessary funding and support in the Spring Statement, it says.
The move has been led by climate think tank E3G and Greenpeace UK and groups signing the letter include Friends of the Earth, the Energy Saving Trust, End Fuel Poverty Coalition, Clean Air Fund, Age UK, Mums for Lungs, WWF UK, and the Wildlife Trusts.
They are calling for action to increase benefits as close as possible to April’s inflation rate as a minimum, while they say reinstating the £20 Universal Credit increase would also lessen the impact for poor households.
The groups warn that the best solution to high gas prices is to use less gas, with better energy efficiency and insulation, and through switching to electric heat pumps which use less energy to heat homes than gas boilers.
They are calling for billions more pounds in funding for insulation and boosting heat pump installation, which they said could be funded from sources such as the sale of green gilts and the UK Infrastructure Bank.
And the government must expand renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to end reliance on gas for electricity generation and support the switch to electric heat pumps and vehicles, the groups urge, including removing “onerous” planning restrictions which hold back onshore wind.
They call for further expansion of North Sea oil and gas drilling to be ruled out and say the ban on fracking should remain – warning that both energy sources are unpopular with the public, would worsen the climate crisis and fail to cut bills.
Juliet Phillips, senior policy adviser at climate think tank E3G, said: “Energy security starts at home: this means supercharging a renovation wave to cut energy bills and permanently reduce the exposure of families to volatile international gas markets – boosting energy efficiency and rolling out electric heat pumps.
“The Chancellor and Prime Minister must seize the moment and push forward an ambitious, long-term plan to support warmer, healthier homes which are cheaper to run.”
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “This is a fossil fuel crisis, and new fossil fuels from the likes of fracking or new North Sea oil and gas aren’t going to solve our problems."
She added the government needed to back properly funded measures to support households, accelerate renewables and fund home upgrades to reach energy freedom and stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Dan Paskins, director of UK impact, Save the Children UK, warned: “Parents are telling us that they’re struggling to meet basic needs, leaving them having to make impossible choices between heating their homes and buying clothes for their children, and children are paying the price."
He added things would only get harder without action, and said Mr Sunak had an opportunity to ease the burden on families in is Spring Statement by investing to keep homes warm and bring bills down.
A government spokesperson said: “We are providing support worth £21 billion this financial year and next to support people with costs of living, including a new £150 council tax rebate from April and another £200 energy bill discount in October for the majority of households.
“This is on top of existing schemes targeted at vulnerable and low-income households, like the Warm Home Discount which we’re expanding further this October.
“Boosting our domestic clean energy sector, while supporting our oil and gas industry as part of the net zero transition, is at the heart of our plans for greater energy security, reducing dependence on foreign fossil fuels and bringing down energy costs for consumers.”