Before the general election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats repeatedly criticised Labour for failing to tackle prices charged by the Big Six suppliers. Both the opposition parties demanded an inquiry by the Competition Commission.A few months ago, it was a critical issue that needed to be addressed. Now it doesn't merit a mention, even though energy bills are eating up far more of people's incomes than before. Having extracted what they wanted from you - your vote - they now have to attend to their real masters, the private sector energy companies.
An inquiry would have the power to reform the industry, encourage new entrants to break the hold of players such as British Gas and EDF on 99 per cent of the market and, potentially, impose price caps.
However four months into the Coalition Government, no inquiry has been called and the Department of Energy and Climate Change confirmed last night that it has no plans to refer the industry to the Competition Commission.
The news comes amid the possibility that the Coalition will reduce the Winter Fuel Payment for older people, worth £250 per household, or £400 where at least one partner is 80 years old.
With annual bills over £1,000, social problems caused by high energy prices have escalated.
Homes in fuel poverty – defined as spending 10 per cent or more of their income on fuel – have trebled in five years to around 6.6 million. Figures released in December showed that during the cold winter of 2008/09, “excess winter mortality” jumped by 49 per cent to 36,700, sending an extra 10,000 pensioners to early graves. (1)
After all, Nice Dave and Gorgeous George will need well paid sinecures once they quit this politics lark.
Any moves on the Winter Fuel Allowance need to be watched closely. A means tested allowance might be workable and not morally repugnant, but the BBC has hinted that this isn't an option that the coalition are considering seriously (2).
It seems likely that the age of qualification - currently 60 - will be revised upwards - perhaps as high as 75 (3) as this would honour the coalition agreement to protect . there's only one word for such an idea - barbarism. Once people are retired, probably living on a fixed or very limited income, and are becoming frail, a move like this is going to cause misery and will result in many more deaths. These will be attributable to Cameron and Osborn, if they follow through on this idea.
I can not see any reason why energy utilities should not be nationalized. They are key infrastructure, and should be in public hands. They should never have been sold off. It's an indictment that British citizens are being ripped off by energy companies that are largely foreign owned, and - regardless of ownership - view the people using the energy as cows to be milked.
The tragedy is that the British government seems to think along similar lines - British citizens don't need to be protected from this exploitation, and the elderly and vulnerable do not need to be cared for.
1 - "Coalition turns down heat under energy suppliers," by Martin Hickman. Published in the Independent, 18th of August, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coalition-turns-down-heat-under-energy-suppliers-2056038.html)
2 - "Benefits review 'shocking betrayal' says Labour," unattributed article. Published by the BBC, 18th of August, 2010. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11017908)
3 - "Ministers consider cuts to winter fuel allowance," by Nigel Morris. Published in the Independent, 18th of August, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ministers-consider-cuts-to-winter-fuel-allowance-2055350.html)