Simon Read: Who will take responsibility for 2,700 extra fuel poverty deaths?

 

The stark statistic that 2,700 hard-up people die each year because they can't afford to heat their homes should shame the Government. It means more people now die while trying to stay warm than are killed on Britain's roads.

Decades of investment in making roads safer cut the road death toll to just 1,857 last year, the lowest figure since records began back in 1926. Even so, there remain countless campaigns to reduce roads deaths even further. And rightly so. Yet when it comes to people being forced to choose between heating and eating, with fatal consequences, our government does nothing. Typical of its woolly approach to the crisis was the Prime Minister's energy summit. He summoned the chiefs of the big six gas and electricity companies to discuss how to tackle the growing problem of fuel poverty. But the results were pathetic.

Cameron had the chance to bang the energy bosses' heads together and make them see reason about soaring gas and electricity prices. But he failed miserably. Instead, Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, simply suggested we check we're on the cheapest tariff and find out whether we could save money by paying by direct debit or by insulating our homes. In itself that's sound advice.

In fact, we devote two pages to the issue this week with some useful tips on how to cut energy costs and bills. But we expect more from our leaders. Stephen Fitzpatrick, boss of independent energy company Ovo, summed up the feelings of many of us when he termed the summit "a wasted opportunity". "The people who need a voice in this debate are the consumers; we all have a responsibility to give them a fairer deal," Fitzpatrick said.

Sadly the bigger firms don't seem to share that responsibility. They appear happier to raise prices together and rake in bigger profits – climbing to £125 per customer, according to the latest figures.

But their actions are causing needless deaths, according to Professor John Hills, of the London School of Economics, who was asked by the Government to study the energy industry. It was his study that published the figure of 2,700 deaths through fuel poverty this week.

Shadow Energy Secretary, Caroline Flint, also accused Coalition ministers of failing consumers. She warned they were out of touch and did not understand that people were having to choose between food and heating. But this is not an issue to score political points over. With the cold weather upon us, the winter deaths this year will soon be mounting.

And the blood of many will be on the hands of the politicians who have let price inflation force essential fuel beyond the reach of many ordinary folk.

s.read@independent.co.uk

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