In the wake of the British electricity and gas industry regulator Ofgem announcing that the energy price cap would rise by a shocking 80 per cent to £3,549 from 1 October 2022, local councils have begun planning how to use public buildings to keep people warm this winter.
The hike raises the maximum amount utility companies can charge their customers from the present £1,971 and is expected to climb further in subsequent quarters as global gas prices surge, in no small part due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the consequences of which are feeding into a broader cost of living crisis with inflation at a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent and wages stagnating.
These dire circumstances threaten to drive millions of people into fuel poverty this winter, with the government facing increasingly fierce calls to step in to prevent that happening, a task that must surely be first on new prime minister Rishi Sunak’s agenda.
Just as community food banks have been set up to take donations and hand out emergency supplies to low-income families, “warm banks” will give those unable to afford the exorbitant cost of home heating somewhere to go once the weather turns.
Libraries, art galleries, community centres and places of worship could all be used in this way, giving people some respite from the cold.
In July, The Independent reported council officials in Bristol and Gateshead were already working to set up free public warm spaces as energy prices rocketed.
Now London, Birmingham, Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen councils are also among those looking into providing similar schemes, as are those responsible for Southend in Essex, Sheffield in Yorkshire and several others in Nottinghamshire.
Birmingham city councillor John Cotton told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We want to help people to find places where they will be welcomed, free of charge.
“As a council we will then work with our partners across the city to identify gaps in provision and find solutions to fill them.
“It should not be the case that people cannot afford to keep their homes warm, but that is the reality that we are facing here in Birmingham.”
Bristol City Council was one of the first local authorities to look at setting up “warm places” to open in the autumn.
Its mayor, Marvin Rees, said in June: “It almost sounds like wartime but we’ll be working with community organisations and partners around the city to set up warm places that people can go to if they need to, come the autumn.”
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