One in four won’t be able to afford bills, says Citizens Advice – as PM accused of going ‘missing in action’
One in four people in the UK will not be able to afford their gas and electricity bills when the energy price cap rises in October, according to new research.
Citizens Advice said 13 million people across Britain would be pushed into debt when annual energy bills are allowed to rocket to £3,600 – double the number of people already in the red.
Charities pleaded with the government to expand emergency payments, as inflation reached a four-decade high of 10.1 per cent on Wednesday and heaped more pressure on those struggling with bills and food prices.
Tory peer and Asda chairman Stuart Rose accused Boris Johnson of going on “shore leave” while Britain hurtles towards inevitable recession – saying the government had been “very, very slow” in dealing with the cost of living crisis.
Citizens Advice warned ministers that the number pushed into debt over their fuel bills could jump to one in three (34 per cent) in January, when annual prices are predicted to soar above £4,200.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that skyrocketing prices will swallow up all of the help that has been announced so far,” said chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty as she called for more support for the most vulnerable.
The charity chief added: “Every day that goes by without a plan is another day without reassurance for people who desperately need it. We urgently need further support, otherwise we risk a winter of despair for millions.”
Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse denied government inaction during the cost of living crisis. “This idea that we’re all just sitting on our hands eating buns and picking our noses is not true,” he told Times Radio.
But he said it would be up to Boris Johnson’s successor to decide what to do about rising bills. “We are putting the government on war footing, if you like, so that a new prime minister in just a couple of weeks’ time now is able to make some quick decisions,” he told the BBC.
However, Liz Truss, the Tory leadership favourite, is yet to commit to any additional direct payments to help the public with huge hikes in energy bills expected from October.
Rishi Sunak – who has said he will commit around £5bn in additional payments to the most vulnerable – said it would be a “moral failure” not to offer more help. Both candidates rejected Labour’s proposal to freeze the energy price cap through the winter.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government did not “get” the scale of the crisis. “We need urgent action … don’t wait until it’s too late until people are pushed into debt, pushed into poverty,” she told LBC on Wednesday.
Cooper said the prime minister was “missing in action” – saying he and his chancellor Nadhim Zahawi for “doing nothing”. She added: “They have just disappeared. It’s totally irresponsible for the prime minister and the chancellor not to take action.”
Johnson has been accused of treating his final weeks in office as “one big party” after he headed off to Greece for a week – his second holiday in a fortnight.
But Malthouse said Boris Johnson is “kept constantly in touch with what is going on” while on holiday in Greece. “When he gets back from Greece he’ll be briefed on the work we’ve been doing,” he said.
The latest inflation figures – which showed food and non-alcoholic beverages prices increased by 12.7 per cent – represent the biggest jump in the cost of living since February 1982.
Rocio Concha, director of policy at Which?, said the latest figures make clear that “millions of people face a dire financial situation in the months ahead … it’s clear that the current level of cost-of-living government help will not be sufficient”.
Responding to the latest inflation figures, union leaders said the cost of living crisis has become a “living nightmare” for workers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called for a price cap freeze and renationalisation of energy firms to deal with the “emergency”. Unison assistant general secretary Jon Richards said above-inflation pay rises “are essential to rescue families on the brink”.
Citizens Advice centres have been overwhelmed with requests for help in recent months, with advisers saying families had been forced into “heartbreaking” choices between eating or heating their home.
Food bank managers have also told The Independent some people could not afford to top up their pre-paid meters – doing without out all gas and electricity for several days.
It comes as new research reveals the neighbourhoods worst impacted by gas and electricity prices. Friends of the Earth found almost 9,000 “energy crisis hotspots” across England and Wales where communities are at risk of serious financial hardship.
Birmingham, Bradford, Cornwall, Sandwell, County Durham and Enfield (joint fifth) rank highest among the local authority areas with the most energy crisis hotspots – with the campaign group pointing to the high prevalence of “leaky” home missing basic insulation.
“The highest priority of all is fixing the UK’s leaky, inefficient housing stock, otherwise cash handouts will be required year on year,” said Friends of the Earth Mike Childs – calling for a £15bn insulation programme.