The governmentâ€™s own â€œFuel povertyâ€ adviser has been on TV and radio telling us that we will have more people in fuel poverty this winter than at any time for the last ten years. Well, thereâ€™s a surprise! I wonder how much he and his staff get paid to come out with such obvious statements. If energy prices go up by a third or by half, and peopleâ€™s incomes scarcely keep up with general inflation, of course more will find it difficult to pay the fuel bills. Apparently fuel poverty is when your fuel bill is more than 10% of your net income. They will also find it more difficult to pay the Tax bills, having to pay for all those fuel poverty advisers and civil servants workign out the figures. Fuel poverty should be set alongside food poverty, travel poverty, and TV poverty, when those things rise too high as a proportion of income, or alongside my favourite and the most common, Tax poverty.The truth is there is Poverty, pure and simple, and it’s getting worse thanks to this government’s failed economic strategy.
Of course I think it is worrying that many people this winter will fear both the fuel bills and the food bills. The recent price rises have hit those on low incomes and no incomes harder than those on higher incomes. But if you don’t want to call it simple poverty why not call it Tax poverty, for the 10 p tax band abolition hit many of those people very hard, as does the increased petrol tax and the prospective rise in VED on older cars. If they paid less tax, people on lower incomes would have more to pay for fuel.
We need not wonder why the Governmentâ€™s Fuel Poverty expert was let loose on TV. It clearly means a benefit package is coming soon. The PM is preparing a benefit pay out to people struggling with fuel bills, to show he is in touch and cares. No worry that the nation cannot afford any more public spending. No surprise if it has to be paid for out of increased borrowing rather than from making savings elsewhere. Do not expect a proper programme to increase energy capacity and to generate more power at home any time soon. The government has been dithering for 10 years without a proper energy policy, waiting for the lights to go out as power stations age and give up. This is the government which has given us more dependence on imported oil and gas and then wonders why it is all so dear.
Clearly the PM still has not learnt anything from recent by election defeats and from the sorry run of Opinion Polls. The more of our money he spends, and the more he borrows, the less popular he becomes. People on low incomes do not want one off winter hand outs to see the government through a political hole. They want an economy with job opportunities to lift them out of low income altogether. They want energy industries that are expanding capacities and putting prices up by less.They want enough money to pay all the bills.
George Osborne produced a very detailed and well researched speech this week demonstrating that people from low income areas and low income backgrounds are doing worse educationally and in terms of job opportunities now than when Labour first came to power. Far from narrowing the gap, they have allowed the gap to grow. The gap has not just grown because the rich have got richer â€“ nothing wrong with that â€“ but the gap has grown because the poor are struggling more and even less likely to get A levels, get a degree or get a decent job – everything wrong with that. It is the failure to lift and boost the poor that matters. A decade of throwing more money into regional aid and into benefits has failed. More fuel poverty, according to the governmentâ€™s own adviser, is just a small part of the wider truth. There is more poverty. Itâ€™s a poverty of achievement and ambition as well as a shortage of money. Thatâ€™s why we need a new approach to schools, to training and to incentives for work. Thatâ€™s why we need to tackle tax poverty, for too many people at the bottom end of the income scale are trapped by Labourâ€™s benefit and tax system.