David Cameron with Energy Secretary Ed Davey at the Clean Energy Ministerial conference in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron has let the energy companies pocket his £50 bill cut

By failing to ensure companies pass on the full reduction, the PM has allowed them to boost profits at the expense of the consumer.

David Cameron’s timidity has left millions of customers with higher bills after his supposed £50 cut was exposed as a sham. Today’s figures show that his trademark complacency has let four of the six large suppliers by-pass the supposed £50 cut he trumpeted in December - meaning many of the Big Six have pocketed the benefit from Cameron’s changes to green levies, rather than passing it on to the consumer.And with 400,000 people without help to heat their homes as a result of government cancelling energy efficiency measures, it is the hardest pressed of customers that are hit.

Last December, at the time of Cameron and his hapless Lib Dem sidekick Ed Davey’s announcement, Labour warned that it would be at the discretion of the energy companies to pass on these reductions. We warned that the government’s plan did nothing to challenge the spiralling profits at the Big Six and we warned that they might seek to pocket some of the benefit, reducing the average £110 increase in bills by less than Cameron’s headline "£50" (meaning his cut was still a rise of at least £60 for consumers). And now it turns out they have.

Four of the Big Six will pass on just a fraction of the £50 cut in their costs. E.On, EDF, Npower and Scottish Power have all indicated that customers on fixed price deals will see just a £12 reduction in their bills. A total of 3.7 million customers are estimated to miss out on over £140m of savings.

By failing to pass on the full reduction, Cameron has helped the energy companies to boost profits at the expense of the consumer. Once again, he has been caught out standing up for the privileged few, aided and abetted by a hapless Lib Dem Secretary of State whose boast that "consumers are the ones who are winning" seems, at best, ill-judged.

Time and again, the big energy suppliers and their trade body claim to be sorry for their past behaviour, say that they have learnt lessons, proclaim that they want their customers to trust them, and that they are committed to working for fairness and transparency in the energy market. Yet today’s exposure shows that if they can find a way around a half-hearted government announcement, some of them will. It is this attitude that has caused the crisis of customer confidence in the energy sector – and it is a crisis that the government are either unwilling or (as demonstrated today) unable to address.

The UK energy market is in clear need of urgent reform, to make it clear, fair and transparent for the future. Only Labour has proposed to break up the Big Six, make their trading more transparent and scrap the discredited regulator Ofgem. Meanwhile, our price freeze for a fixed, defined and specific period of 20 months will protect consumers whilst we push through these vital reforms, saving the average household £120.

Tom Greatrex is shadow energy minister and Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear