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17 May 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 4:09pm

No one should choose between unpaid bills and staying warm

The next Labour government will bring key services back under public ownership, ending the exploitation of basic human needs.  

By Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

Imagine how different this past month would have been if there was a Labour government instead of a Conservative government riddled with infighting and led by a weak Prime Minister. The Windrush scandal would never have happened, and the Business Secretary would have just announced a radical insulation policy to save households over £1bn and a cap on energy prices would have already been in place saving households over £1,000 since 2010.

Sadly, that is not what happened. Instead, the Home Secretary resigned following her botched handling of a national scandal in which 50,000 legal migrants have lost jobs, been detained at risk of deportation and denied life-saving NHS care. 

It was Labour, in opposition, who pledged to save households £270 a year by properly funding a street-by-street programme to insulate four million homes in our first term in office, and bring all homes up to EPC average by 2035. In response, the government could only point to a review being carried out into carbon monoxide alarms. And, by blocking Labour’s amendments to the price cap legislation, the government has ensured that the cap on energy bills promised a year ago by Theresa May might not be in place by this winter, and that another Conservative election promise of knocking £100 off bills will go unfulfilled.

This is just one of the many examples of how the Tories are failing to ensure that our energy system works for people, businesses and our planet. No amount of government gimmickry will add up to the radical action needed to transform our energy system and save our planet. Scratch the surface, and it is clear where the Tories really lie on the environment – funding for renewable energy slashed; fracking licensed; no real action on soaring energy bills, and climate targets missed again and again. The government also has a dismally poor record on insulating homes. According to the House of Commons library, between the end of April 2013 and the end of December 2017 only around 1.5m homes had been insulated. 

This litany of failure is galling, not just because climate action is urgent and necessary, but because failing to act is costly. Poorly insulated, low-quality and energy inefficient housing along with spiralling energy costs and stagnating wages have left up to four million people up and down the country living in fuel poverty. One million of these include someone with a disability; the health impacts of fuel poverty are worst for the most vulnerable in our society. Many of these people have had to make the heartbreaking choice between surviving freezing temperatures with no heating or receiving an energy bill that they simply cannot afford to pay. The latest figures from National Energy Action show that excess winter deaths last winter were 39.5 per cent higher than the year before at 34,300 in England and Wales.

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It is beyond belief that households have been overcharged to the tune of £1.3bn last winter, while the six Distribution Network Operators (DNOs), according to the Financial Times, made an average profit margin after tax of 32 per cent a year between 2010 and 2015, equating to £10bn over six years and dividend payouts of £5.1bn.

The Labour Party will not allow this exploitation of a basic human need to continue any longer. We will radically reform the UK’s energy system both to address the glaring market failures and tackle the biggest issue facing humanity: climate change, which has been described by Sir Nicholas Stern as “the greatest market failure the world has seen”. Combatting this challenge will not be achieved through warm words. It requires a radical shift in the way we organise our energy system.

That’s why Labour has put climate change front and centre of its industrial strategy, with a mission to deliver 60 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2030, and a commitment to transforming our energy system so that it is decentralised, flexible and diverse – fit for a future based on renewables. The only way to do that is by taking our energy system back into public ownership. 

In private hands, the modus operandi for the owners of our national and local grid infrastructure has been to cut costs, pay out big dividends and make it harder for renewable and community generators to connect to the grid so as not to undermine their profits. They have not planned for how the grid will need to work in the long term, nor have they had any incentive to make the necessary investments to make that happen. But transforming our grid for a renewable future will require restructuring and innovation, both of which mean long-term investment and strategic planning of the kind that the private sector has failed to deliver. 

Privatisation of our utilities and natural monopolies has failed. Quite simply, bringing critical parts of our energy system back into public hands and democratic control is the only way to ensure that we put climate change at the heart of our energy system, along with committing to renewable generation from tidal to onshore wind. As the leader of the Labour Party has said in the past: “To go green, we must take control of our energy.”

The next Labour government will transform our energy system and invest in renewable technologies which will create good jobs, boost our exports, and lower the price of energy for businesses and households, protecting the most vulnerable in society from fuel poverty.

Rebecca Long-Bailey is Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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