Two-thirds of all UK households – an estimated 45 million Britons – will be pushed into fuel poverty by January as they struggle to pay rocketing energy bills, new research has found.
Around 18 million families will be plunged into financial precariousness due to soaring gas and electricity bills, according to a “shocking” University of York study on fuel poverty.
It comes as Boris Johnson’s government and Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak come under pressure to offer more direct support to ease the cost of living crisis, as inflation hits a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent.
The new study found that 86.4 per cent of pensioner couples across the UK will fall into fuel poverty – defined as paying more than 10 per cent of income on energy – by January.
Single parent households with two or more children are the most likely to fall into trouble from the looming price rises, with some 90.4 per cent set to be plunged into fuel poverty.
The region hardest hit this winter will be Northern Ireland with 76.3 per cent of families battling to pay their bills, followed by Scotland at 72.8 per cent, then the West Midlands (70.9 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (70.6 per cent).
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate secretary, responded to the grim estimates by calling for an energy price freeze to address the “national emergency” of inflation.
“These shocking figures show the full scale of the national emergency that could unfold unless the Conservative government acts to freeze energy bills,” said the senior Labour figure. “We simply cannot allow the British people to suffer in this way.”
It echoed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s proposal to freeze the energy price cap at its current level of £1,971 for six months from October – when annual bills are forecast to hit £3,600.
According to an Opinium poll published this week, almost three in four Tory voters support the idea of taking the energy companies back into public ownership on a temporary basis if they can’t keep control of bills.
But Starmer told LBC on Wednesday night that nationalising the firms would not help families this winter. “Every single penny of our scheme should go to reducing bills – not paying off shareholders through nationalisation,” he said.
The cost of living crisis was catapulted further up the agenda in the Tory leadership election as new figures showed a worse-than-expected hit in July with inflation reaching 10.1 per cent. Sunak said on Wednesday voters would “not forgive” the party if the next PM did not offer more direct support.
Further pressure was added to the government and Tory candidates with the resignation of Ofgem director Christine Farnish – who cited concerns the energy regulator was failing to effectively protect struggling households.
Ms Farnish told The Times the watchdog had not “struck the right balance between the interests of consumers and the interests of suppliers”.
She said the regulator had opted to “add several hundred pounds to everyone’s bill in order to support a number of suppliers in the coming months.”
Her resignation is linked to Ofgem’s decision to change the methodology of the price cap to allow suppliers to recover some of the high energy costs sooner rather than later.
Both the government and the energy regulator have faced criticism in recent months for not doing enough to protect families during the global energy crisis.
Tory peer Stuart Rose accused Boris Johnson of going on “shore leave” while Britain hurtles towards recession, saying the government had been “very, very slow” in tackling the crisis.
“We’ve got to have some action,” the Asda boss said. “The captain of the ship is on shore leave, right – nobody’s in charge at the moment.”
A group of 70 charities and think tanks have urged the Tory leadership contenders to at least double the £1,200 cost of living support promised to vulnerable households this winter.
Citizens Advice said one in four consumers – around 13 million – will not be able to afford their gas and electricity bills when the energy price cap rises in October. The charity warned of a “winter of despair”.