Yorkshire and the Humber already has 16.8 per cent of households suffering fuel poverty – the second highest rate in the country behind the West Midlands, according to Government figures. As fuel bills spiral to unprecedented levels, everyone will feel the squeeze, especially those already finding it tough to make ends meet.
It is vital the Government acts now to ease the misery facing thousands of people in our region and right across the country. I have called since October for the Government to cut VAT on domestic fuel bills from five per cent to zero to ease the cost of living crisis that bites deeper by the day.
A Labour government would work with local authorities to recruit and train staff to co-ordinate a massive programme to retrofit 19 million homes to cut fuel bills and tackle climate change.
The programme would see homes fitted with insulation, double glazing and upgraded heating systems and other low carbon technologies – measures which could save households over £400 a year on fuel bills.
Boris Johnson and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak have refused to act – despite the fact that 20 of their own MPs and peers this week wrote an open letter pleading with them to remove VAT on fuel bills.
What makes the Prime Minister’s refusal to act all the more callous and unacceptable was the emergence this week of an article he wrote in 2016 in which he outlined how leaving the EU would lower fuel bills because it would allow the UK to cut VAT.
He promised that “fuel bills will be lower for everyone” if Britain left the EU. Well, as with so many things, he was wrong about that. Even though he could now cut the VAT rate, he is refusing to do so and has gone back on his word.
He promised not once but three times to cut VAT on household energy bills during and after the Brexit referendum campaign – all just more broken pledges.
Sadly, the worst is yet to come as fuel bills are expected to soar still further when the UK’s energy price cap is reassessed in April.
However, it is not just fuel bills that are going through the roof. The rising cost of food, petrol, and tax hikes mean families’ weekly budgets will be stretched to breaking point. There will be further pain when rail fares rise by 3.8 per cent in March – the biggest increase since 2013.
As an analysis by Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh showed, rail passengers in Britain are paying up to seven times more than other European nations. Rail travellers making the 28-mile journey from the Italian city of Turin to Asti pay just £4.86 off peak, but a comparable trip from Leeds to Sheffield can cost £12.20.
All this comes as new figures show that 6.5 million people in working families had no savings at all when the Covid pandemic started. One dreadful example of how bad things are was clear in the story this week about the level of “bed poverty” in Leeds which has led to some children being forced to sleep on the floor or in the bathtub at their family home.
So, it was really heartening to read about the inspiring efforts of teacher Bex Wilson who set up a charity in the city that delivered 50 beds in the week before Christmas as part of their fight to alleviate child poverty.
In my constituency of Leeds West, Bramley Clothing Exchange does fantastic work helping families pick up clothes and outgrown school uniforms without charge, as does St Andrews Church in Kirkstall with its community food pantry.
This is a government that simply does not care about helping the most vulnerable people in our communities. Under Boris Johnson, it cannot even get the basic business of government right by looking after taxpayers’ money.
Instead of helping businesses recover from the pandemic, the Government continues to hit them with tax hikes, while a Labour government would help them by reforming the outdated system of business rates.
As Chancellor in a Labour government, our team would work tirelessly grow our economy. We would tackle the cost of living crisis and break out of this damaging cycle under the Tories of low growth and high taxes.
This Government undoubtedly needs to take urgent action to cut VAT on domestic fuel bills to address the problems people face today. However, a Labour government would go further by investing £28bn as part of our ambitious and sustainable approach to energy supply in the UK.
With Covid cases rising, fuel bills hitting all-time highs and a deepening cost of living crisis, millions face an anxious time under this discredited, incompetent Government that is more focused on fire-fighting allegations about Covid rule-breaking parties instead of devising proper policies and rebuilding the economy.
As Keir Starmer said this week, a Labour government would develop a new contract for Britain to build the security, prosperity and respect that we all want to see.
Rachel Reeves is the Shadow Chancellor and Labour MP for Leeds West.
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