Many older people and families in Salford are worrying about increases in their energy bills and how they will pay to heat their homes. Fuel poverty is blighting the lives of many people in this country. We already have five million households living in fuel poverty, which means spending more than ten percent of their income on trying to keep warm. One in four pensioners worry that they will not be able to heat their homes this winter.
95% of households are customers of the big six energy companies. In the last four weeks, four of those big six companies have increased their prices. This will add £130 to the average bill, which is already £300 higher than when this Government came to power in 2010.
Price hikes like this would be a problem at any time but wages have been falling in real terms and that is why so many families are struggling with the cost of living. Although older people get some help from the Winter Fuel Allowance it is clear that this is no longer enough to ensure that they can keep warm in winter. I have talked to older constituents who tell me how worried they are about paying their bills.
A Government spokesman said that people should just put on an extra jumper if they are worried about higher heating bills. This is bad advice to give to older people, who should try to keep the temperature at 21 degrees centigrade in their living rooms and 18 degrees in bedrooms.
For older people cold temperatures raise the likelihood and severity of flu, chest infections and respiratory problems. They also raise blood pressure, which puts older people at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The Government needs to take urgent action. A Labour Government in 2015 would stand up to the energy companies by freezing energy prices for 20 months. This could mean £120 off bills for families and £1,800 for businesses. Labour would also reset the energy market and introduce a tough new regulator. These measures will help deliver fairer prices in future.