Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill speaks out as energy crisis may force people to heat or eat this winter
Concerns have been raised that thousands of vulnerable families and the elderly will be forced to choose between feeding themselves and heating their homes this winter.
The chief executive of Age UK Scarborough & District said the gas price crisis is set to have a significant impact on the elderly.
The charity supports older people in Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale and over the past 18 months has been offering support to the vulnerable throughout the pandemic.
Chief executive Neil Bradbury said: “With the removal of the so called ‘triple lock’ on pensions, which guaranteed that pensions would keep up with costs, pensioners are already facing up to hard financial times.
“Rises in fuel prices hit pensioners hardest, with a study last year showing that 2.8 million pensioners across the UK are rationing their energy usage because of concerns of cost, and these projected rises will mean many more older people face the dilemma of ‘heat or eat’.
“Many older people we work with have heeded the call to switch their energy bills to the cheapest provider, yet many of these people will find their reward for this is that the providers are likely to go out of business, causing stress and concern to the most vulnerable people in society.
“In the Scarborough and Ryedale districts we are really worried about the impact of pensioners being unable to afford their bills while Covid is still rife and the new flu strains are spreading.”
Thousands of families living in fuel poverty across Scarborough borough are set to be the hardest hit this winter as wholesale gas prices reach record highs, pushing consumer energy bills up.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said the impending removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift and surging energy prices could plunge people into poverty.
Definitions of fuel poverty in the UK vary by country. In England, households need to be in a home with an infefficient energy rating as well as being left below the poverty line after heating costs.
In Scarborough borough there are 8,824 households in fuel poverty where homeowners are left struggling to pay the bills, which accounts for 17 per cent of total households.
Debbie Swales, from Revival North Yorkshire, a company which supports older and vulnerable people, said: “I’m really concerned. Some older people are extremely careful with money, because they come from a generation that have had to be.
“The concern is that even if they can afford [to heat their homes], they don’t think they can. They’ll think ‘I better not turn it on’, that they need to be careful, and they’re going to be extremely cautious about using more.”
Kate Urwin, from Yorkshire Energy Doctor CIC, said that many people do not realise there is financial help available, which can quickly affect their health and wellbeing if not sought.
She added: “We have all been at home a lot more over the last 18 months and inevitably that is going to have a knock-on effect on our energy costs.
“It will be a challenging winter with the ongoing price rises but you don’t need to suffer in silence, there are schemes and grants out there to ease the burden.”
Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill said: “As we come into the winter period, the cost of heating the home is always a big challenge and people on fixed incomes will be facing some difficult times.
“For some of the vulnerable consumers, sadly they’re the ones least likely to have gone out and got a competitive price. The message is, do make sure you’re on the best tariff you can get.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Protecting consumers is our top priority. That’s why the Energy Price Cap will remain in place to protect millions of people from the sudden increases in global gas prices and we have numerous other schemes available to support vulnerable and low-income households, such as the Warm Home Discount.
“Major energy suppliers also purchase much of their wholesale supplies many months in advance, giving protection to them and their customers from short-term price spikes.
“The uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary, to help claimants through the economic shock of the toughest stages of the pandemic.
"It’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and those already employed to earn more.”