My next thought was that the government – which is perfectly able to prevent such fatalities – simply wouldn’t care.
How right I was.
This weekend, people will die of cold in their own homes – in this, the world’s fifth-largest economy – because they cannot afford to pay the high prices charged by energy companies.
Though the cost of fuel to the Big Six has tumbled, they have not cut prices to match. And, rather than make them do so, the Government has turned its fire on clean, renewable power.
It is a great, if underpublicised, scandal. Every seven winter minutes, it is authoritatively calculated, an older person dies from the cold. Even relatively mild January temperatures increase heart attacks and strokes and now – with winter finally taking hold – Public Health England is officially advising pensioners to turn up their heating.
But they can’t afford to. Nearly two-thirds of over-65s told a survey last week that they would be likely to cut back on their energy usage instead, with more than half apparently struggling to pay their bills. And it’s not only the elderly. More than five million British households live in fuel poverty and a higher proportion have to devote more of their incomes to energy than in any other EU country except Estonia.
This year should have brought some relief. The wholesale price of fuel – which makes up nearly 50 per cent of household energy bills – has crashed over the past two years: the cost of gas to the suppliers has halved. But bills, which previously shot up like a rocket, have only drifted down like a feather.
Until last May’s general election, the Big Six companies said they could not cut prices for fear of being caught by Ed Miliband’s planned price freeze. Immediately after the unexpected Tory victory, the new Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, wrote to ask them to do so – the response was minimal while their costs have continued to plummet.
The Big Six point out that they buy their fuel over extended periods, evening out fluctuations. But last summer the Competition Commission concluded that they were overcharging households by a staggering £1.2bn a year. An unofficial survey suggests it is now almost £3bn.
You would expect top-level outrage, wouldn’t you? But the Prime Minister merely said last week that bills were “not falling as fast as I would like”.
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