Energy crisis: Unacceptable choice for people across Falkirk district – to heat or eat this winter

Fears that families across the district could be forced to choose between heating and eating this winter come as the global gas crisis begins to bite.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 12:30 pm

With industry experts admitting that they have never seen anything like the rapid rise in gas prices before, The Falkirk Herald has pledged to seek answers from the government about how our residents will be affected by the energy crisis and lobby to ensure no family is left without heating this winter.

Record numbers of people are facing financial difficulties after over a year of furloughs, price rises, job losses and impending cuts to benefits.

A six-fold rise in wholesale gas prices since last year meant several domestic energy suppliers have hit financial trouble – and there are concerns more will follow.

Trying to keep warm in winter

The global gas crisis is predicted to see a second record hike in energy bills next spring, driving millions across the UK into fuel poverty.

The predicted rise in bills from next April, which could add between £178 and £294 to the typical price for gas and electricity when the new energy cap is set by Ofgem, comes on top of the average £139 increase due next month and amid warnings from energy industry sources that “keeping the lights on” could become increasingly difficult this winter.

A quadruple whammy of a lack of wind to produce electricity from renewable sources, fire damage to the France-UK electricity import connector, North Sea gas platforms offline for maintenance, and a high demand for liquified natural gas in Asia, has seen demand for gas outstrip supply, with rocketing wholesale prices forcing the collapse of several smaller energy firms unable to cope.

And while bills will rise from October 1, as a result of the price cap set earlier this year, the current record energy market prices could now feed through to the cap for next April, with analysts predicting it could drive bills up by a further 14 per cent – forcing millions more into fuel poverty.

In Scotland around 613,000 people are already classed as living in fuel poverty and despite a £2 million splurge by housing associations on energy efficiency measures for social housing, the target to reduce the number of Scots in fuel poverty will not be met by 2032.

There are also concerns the Scottish Government is not acting with enough urgency, even in the run up to the COP26 conference in November, to alert private homeowners of the changes they need to make to their homes to make them energy efficient, to meet climate change targets.

While the crisis is affecting us all, there are concerns that the elderly and vulnerable are more at risk.

Age Scotland research has found that energy bills are the biggest concern for more than eight in ten people over 50 who feel financially squeezed.

The charity is urging older people to ensure they are not missing out on benefits as we go into winter, such as Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Allowance. Older and more vulnerable customers should also ensure they are on the Priority Services Register with their energy supplier in case of power cuts.Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said: “The growing energy crisis and rising cost of living look set to make this a very long, harsh winter for older and vulnerable people in Scotland. Thousands more could be plunged into fuel poverty, and this could seriously put their health at risk.“Our latest research reveals that energy bills are the number one concern for older people who feel financially squeezed. The lockdown has only made this worse, with two thirds already facing higher home energy bills and many taking steps to cut down their energy use.“It’s already completely unacceptable that one in three pensioner households is living in fuel poverty. This is only likely to rise in the coming months, with many more struggling to pay for essentials such as food and heating.“Far too many are already putting themselves at risk of health problems, such as heart disease, respiratory or circulatory diseases, because they can’t afford to heat their homes properly. This could lead to more winter deaths and hospital admissions, putting additional strain on our over-stretched NHS.“We urgently need the UK and Scottish Governments to work with energy suppliers and make sure that vulnerable customers are a priority.“We’re also encouraging all older people to make sure they are claiming all the support they are entitled to as we go into winter. Tens of thousands of pensioners are missing out on Pension Credit, which also entitles them to Cold Weather Payments and other benefits. People can also check with their supplier if they are eligible for Warm Home Discounts, help with insulation or draft proofing.”

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