Simon Read: Everyone should be able to keep warm

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The Independent Online

Fuel povery is not a condition that anyone should face. Yet some 6.6 million households in the UK simply won't be able to afford to turn up the heating this winter. The rest of us probably take for granted that we can keep our homes as warm as we need, but millions will be forced to wear extra jumpers or blankets simply to keep the worst of the chill off.

For that reason, I was pleased to see in the Energy Bill, announced as part of the Queen's Speech on Wednesday, mandatory help for fuel-poor energy customers. The move will provide essential relief for some of the poorest and most vulnerable pensioners and disabled people. But until we get to a situation when no one has to turn off their heat because of the cost, then the move isn't enough.

Consumer Focus wants the UK Government to ensure that all households living in fuel poverty are entitled to help under the plans, a call that I support. Discounted tariffs should be extended to pensioners, families with children and disabled people eligible for Cold Weather Payments, as well as people on means-tested benefits with school-age children. Jonathan Stearn, energy expert for Consumer Focus, says: "We're glad to see that the Government is showing leadership on tackling fuel poverty, by moving to cut the bills of the poorest energy customers. However, these plans must ensure that the millions of vulnerable pensioners, families and disabled people living in fuel poverty get the cheapest deal possible."

We know that energy firms have been profiteering for ages and it's time to force them to give something back by ensuring that no one suffers because of the cold. Gas bills rose by 51 per cent last year and electricity by 28 per cent, yet they have only come down by 6 and 8 per cent respectively this year. The average energy bill is currently £1,239 per year, which is clearly far too much for many to afford. Prices for struggling people should be cut to an affordable level now.

*Meanwhile, I may never have to return to the subject of pensions – if a new campaign gets its way. Realising that the word has negative connotations, AXA has kicked off a search for an alternative word or phrase. The firm is working with Collins English Dictionary to ask the public to suggest a new name after its research revealed that almost a fifth of 18- to 24-year-olds are put off starting a pension purely because they don't like the word.

The campaign will be launched on Monday and anyone successfully suggesting a new name will pocket almost £5,000. New name suggestions can be submitted on or via Twitter with the #newnameforpension hashtag. Entries will close on 26 November after which a shortlist of five potential names will be chosen.

The public will vote on the five selected words or phrases and the chosen name will be announced on 6 December with the creator awarded one year's single person's full state pension – £4,953. I hope to win the cash myself, but please feel free to enter your own suggestions!

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