Without the £400 energy bill support fund in 2023 looking at my smart meter in Autumn/Winter makes me stressed
Energy prices may have come down recently, but with them predicted to go back up in January - and the cost of gas and electricity still much higher than it has been prior to the Cost of Living Crisis - NationalWorld reporter Rochelle Barrand questions why the £400 energy bill support fund was a one-off
I daren't look at my smart meter too often. It sits in my kitchen, but I try not to look at it every time I go to switch the kettle on to make myself a cup of tea or turn my airfryer on to make myself the other kind of tea (I'm a northerner, so yes, the evening meal is very much called tea).
That's because the number on the display will make me feel stressed, especially as the month progresses. That's not to say that I don't think smart meters are a good idea, I do, and I'm glad I've got one so I can keep an eye on how much I'm spending on gas and electricity every month so that the monthly bill isn't a huge shock when it arrives. It does mean that I can try and do things to reduce my spend, but there's only so much that any one person can do to reduce their energy usage and therefore cut the cost of their energy bills. Food must be cooked, devices need be charged, lights need to be switched on and homes must he heated.
The issue I have is that energy bills - like pretty much every other bill at the moment - are far too high. I know bills have come down recently, but they haven't come down low enough so that the average person doesn't have to worry about how much their bill is going to be at the end of the month just by going about their day-to-day life. There also still remains so much uncertainty around energy prices, with warnings that they could go up again in January.
Last year, we at least had the reassurance of the government’s energy bill support package, which provided households with £400 over winter, but this year we have nothing at all. Now, I know Rishi Sunak has been a bit busy recently re-organising his cabinet, but back in the real world the cost of living crisis is still very much with us. I, like many people, was very grateful for the government fund last year, which meant that everyone received a £66 to £67 a month off their energy bills over a six-month period across the coldest months of the year. But, I do wonder why we have no help this year.
I'm sure I can't be the only one who is still worried by how much the gas and electricity bills are going to be this winter, lower or not. The price may have come down, but now we are getting no additional financial help, most people will still end up paying more on their bills than they did last year. It's just another blow for our bank balances. Yet again more money coming out, and not any more going in.
If Sunak and his cabinet had magically managed to transfer our economy in the last year then fair enough, I'd understand them not helping with our bills this year. But they haven't. The interest rate is still 5.25% which means it has remained unchanged for the second consecutive Bank of England announcement and the UK inflation rate remains stagnant at 6.7% due to high fuel prices despite hopes for a third consecutive dip. Food prices may have dipped a little, but again they are still much higher than they were a year ago, and for that reason the weekly shop is still an anxiety inducing task for most people.
It's no wonder that a recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report found that almost four million people in the UK, including more than a million children, experienced the most extreme form of poverty last year. That’s when someone cannot afford to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed. These are deeply troubling times that we are living through. At least last year's energy bills support scheme helped to ease our worries a little. This year, with no help at all, the worries are - in some ways - bigger than ever.
Now, what I don't necessarily want is for Rishi Sunak - or whoever may be the Prime Minister in future - to keep reaching in to the money pot every year to give everyone £400. That money has to come from somewhere, and it'll be us taxpayers that ultimately have to foot the bill and will suffer in other ways in the long run - if only we could all have celebrity help when it comes to paying our bills, like the mum who had her energy bill paid for by Kate Winslet - but the huge gap between the rich and poor in this country and how the poor get worse off while the rich get even wealthier is another story.
What I'd really like is for the government to acknowledge that the emergency they gave us the money for in 2022 isn't over, not by a long stretch. And, as grateful as people were for that one off support package, it doesn't really cut it. What we so desperately need is decisive action to help us out of the financial black hole we have been sitting in for far too long.