Soaring energy costs could push millions into 'lockdown by default'

© Getty Nuclear power and elderly couple in fuel poverty

It is feared increases in the cost of living could leave the country’s poorest citizens with no spare cash for transport as they face the stark choice of heating their home or buying food. Growing worry about fuel costs and threats to supplies have spurred calls by MPs for the UK to become more self-sufficient by building more nuclear stations and potentially drilling into Britain’s gas reserves.

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, warned: “An enormous number of people, not just older citizens but basically people on the edge of poverty everywhere are really going to struggle…

“There is a fear people could be pushed back into a self-imposed lockdown by default.”

National Energy Action also sounded the alarm, claiming an extra 500,000 households could be pushed into fuel poverty because of rising bills this winter and saying it will only “get even worse”.

The Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), led by South Thanet Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, has warned that green policies must not leave the “public poorer and colder”.

One Conservative MP representing a former “red wall” Labour seat said: “The problem is that the eco-warriors have taken over my party.”

The NZSG states: “We are deeply concerned about the cost of Net Zero policies, in particular the burden they may place upon our poorest constituents… Urgent action is needed to protect consumers from rapidly rising electricity and gas bills.”

It wants green levies removed from energy bills and put into general taxation to “protect people from steep price rises”.

Lee Anderson, a former miner who won the Nottinghamshire seat of Ashfield for the Conservatives in 2019, said: “What this all shows is that we need to make ourselves self-reliant for energy. We need to be looking at shale gas, fracking and nuclear going forward.”

Research for the Energy and Utilities Alliance found two-thirds of respondents (66.1 percent) are worried about being able to afford to keep warm this winter. While nine in ten (95.8 percent) thought it important for the government to invest in alternative sources of energy such as zero carbon hydrogen to avoid a future gas crisis, only a quarter (24.6 percent) wanted to see gas central heating removed from homes to be replaced with electric appliances.

There is major support among Tory MPs for a new generation of nuclear stations.

Mark Jenkinson, who won the iconic Workington constituency in 2019, said: “I’m a big proponent of significantly increasing our nuclear capacity so we can bring down the cost of electricity.”

© SteveAllenPhoto nuclear power station at Dounreay

Virginia Crosbie, who turned Anglesey from red to blue in the last election, wants a new nuclear power station and other energy projects to come to her constituency.

She said: “The gas price spike has come just as people will be switching the heating on again. We urgently need to reduce our dependence on imported gas and transition to a more resilient and cost-effective energy system.

“Doubling down on our transition from fossil fuels to home-grown, zero-carbon electricity spells tremendous opportunity for constituencies like mine, Ynys Môn, where we already have nuclear expertise and an abundance of wind and waves.”

Andy Mayer of the Institute of Economic Affairs says the Government should consider its moratorium on fracking, a controversial process to extract underground gas.

He said: “It’s not going to provide an immediate solution but you could have shovel-ready projects across the north of England within a year. That would at least then provide local sources of revenue and jobs as well.”

However, Mark Logan, who took Bolton North East from Labour in 2019, stressed the measures that are in place to help people on lower incomes.

He said: “It’s right that vulnerable households are protected by the Governments extension to the energy price cap, saving 15 million UK households up to £100 per year, as well as the extension to the Warm Home Discount, meaning a further 780,000 households get £150 knocked off their bill each year.”

Stating his support for continuing the temporary £20 boost to Universal Credit payments introduced during the pandemic, he said: “I would support at least a short-term extension to the Universal Credit uplift and am confident that this government will make emergency funding available to help through difficult times.”

The concern about the impact on the cost of living comes as the respected Resolution Foundation has warned that a “typical low-income family with children could see their income fall by over £20 a week over the next six months”.

Cost of living pressures include the rise in inflation, the potential for a hike in the energy price cap and the introduction of the Health and Social Levy.

Karl Handscomb, a senior economist with the foundation, said: “Low-and-middle-income families will face the tightest squeeze. Many drivers of high inflation should be short-lived, but that will be of little comfort to families struggling over the coming weeks and months.

“While policies like the National Living Wage will deliver a welcome income boost for some, for many low-income families this won’t come close to offsetting the damage caused by cutting Universal Credit.”

A spokesman defended the Government’s green policies, saying: “Acting now will be cheaper than waiting to deal with the consequences of climate change. The costs continue to collapse as green technology advances, with solar and wind now cheaper than existing coal and gas power plants in most of the world.

“The UK economy has already grown by 78 percent whilst cutting emissions by 44 percent over the past three decades securing jobs, investment and exports across the country. At every step of our path to Net Zero, we will be guided by affordability and fairness.

“Nuclear power has a key role to play in this national effort to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, which is why we are backing the next generation of nuclear technology with additional funding and are seeking to approve at least one more large-scale nuclear project in the next few years.”

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