Over the past two weeks, the growing energy crisis has gripped the UK. Gas and electricity prices are soaring, and we have seen several energy suppliers collapsing. From next month, the price cap on energy will increase and household bills will increase significantly. And the price increases are not expected to stop there. Prices are expected to rise once again in April 2022, at the same time as the National Insurance increase will take effect, and urgent action is needed to address the growing cost of living crisis.
The cost of living crisis is set to be exacerbated by the Government cutting £20-per-week from Universal Credit. This cruel cut will see some of the poorest people in the country lose £1,040 a year at the same time as inflation is high and energy prices are skyrocketing. Unless the Government changes course this will be a desperately difficult winter for families across Birmingham and Britain.
There are also updates on the planned strike action at GKN, my meeting with the Afghan community, the launch of RoadPeace’s anthology, and the launch of Erdington Street Pastors.
More on all of these topics below, but first a quick announcement:
The UK energy crisis
There are growing concerns over the energy crisis that is gripping the UK. We have seen energy prices soar and energy companies go out of business – but why is this happening?
The answer is complex and a range of factors, some preventable and some not, have caused the situation we see today.
The first reason appears to be the global increase in demand for gas as countries reopened after Covid restrictions. This, combined with a cold winter in 2020/2021 that depleted our gas stores, has pushed gas prices up. Furthermore, Russia have refused to increase their supply of gas to Europe, which would help ease the pressures on gas prices.
Whilst the increase in global demand and the cold weather were inevitable, our poor storage capacity was not.
In the UK we have the capacity to store under 6% of our average gas usage. In Germany, France and Italy, this figure is roughly 20%. The Government actually decided not to build new gas storage facilities in 2018, laying the ground for the scale of the crisis we see today. The simple reality is that our lack of gas storage infrastructure has left us more exposed to prolonged disruption of supply than our European counterparts.
It is not just gas that has been affected, so too has electricity.
We have seen significant disruption to our supply of electricity over the past few months. In 2020, wind power accounted for 25% of our electricity on average – it is currently providing only 7%. Furthermore, there was a major fire that shut down one of Britain’s most important power cables, again decreasing the supply of electricity.
In order to make up for the lack of electricity supply we have been forced to turn to other sources of energy, such as coal power stations and buying gas in order to generate electricity. However, gas prices are already eye-wateringly high and using it to generate electricity only increases the demand.
Further energy challenges may also lie ahead. Nuclear power plants supply 20% of the UKs electricity supply, however most of them are set to close by the end of the decade, and just one is being built to replace them.
It is clear that the Government has simply not understood the potential challenges facing the UKs energy supply and failed to introduce proper safeguards against shocks to supply. Whether it be low capacity to store gas, a failure to plan for low levels of wind, or failing to invest in sufficient infrastructure to meet our energy needs – the Government have been asleep at the wheel when it comes to energy.
But what does this mean for the British public?
First, energy prices are going up. The average dual fuel bill will increase by £139 next month, and it is expected to increase by between £178 and £294 again in April. For many people across the country, who are already facing financial pressures, this will be devastating.
At the same time, we have already seen a number of energy suppliers go out of business, and more are expected to follow. The energy price cap sets the maximum level a company can charge for gas and electricity in the UK. It prevents companies from charging extortionate prices for electricity. However, soaring wholesale energy costs has meant many energy suppliers are facing massively inflated costs, and their inability to pass these costs onto consumers means many are now financially unsustainable and are starting to collapse.
Over the coming weeks and months, more energy suppliers are expected to go out of business. If your energy supplier collapses, then there are a few things to bear in mind:
- You will not be cut off.
- Ofgem will allocate you a new supplier, who will contact you – this may take a few weeks.
- Take a meter reading, check your balance with your old supplier, and download any bills if possible.
Unfortunately, for most people this will means bills will increase. However, the advice is to wait for your new supplier to be set up before looking to switch.
If you are an Erdington resident and experience any problems with the change of supplier, then please email me at email@example.com and my team and I will give you every support.
Labour’s Universal Credit Motion
The Tories plans to cut Universal Credit by £20-a-week, combined with the National Insurance increase and the soaring cost of living, will push even more families into poverty.
Last Wednesday, Labour brought a motion to the House of Commons calling on the Government to do the right thing and cancel the cut. The Tories didn’t even bother to turn up.
The motion passed by 253 votes to 0, but the Government are planning to continue with this damaging cut that will see £1,040 a year taken away from some of the poorest in society at the time they can least afford it.
At the same time as cutting Universal Credit, the Government is also hiking National Insurance. This means that low paid workers, who claim Universal Credit to top up their income, will be hit with a double whammy of a cut in Universal Credit and a tax hike. This is simply wrong.
Furthermore, inflation reached 3.2% in August, reflecting the growing cost of living crisis we are seeing in this country. Inflation is expected to increase again, to over 4%, in the last quarter of this year due to the increase in energy prices.
Families across Britain were already facing a bleak winter due to soaring costs, but the Government is set to compound that by cutting Universal Credit. Moreover, in April working families will see their National Insurance contributions go up as well.
With a cost of living crisis looming, my message to the Government is simple. Cancel the Universal Credit Cut, cancel the National Insurance hike, and put working families first.
In my last update, I wrote about the GKN workforce voting in favour for strike action (you can read about that here).
Since Unite notified Melrose of the decision to take industrial action, the company has agreed to reopen talks on the future of the plant, including alternatives to closure. Their decision is welcome, but it should not have taken the threat of a strike to bring them to the table.
Due to the reopening of negotiations, the industrial action has been suspended until Monday 18th October to allow for talks to take place. I sincerely hope that Melrose will enter these talks in good faith and work constructively with all parties to find a solution that will save the 519 highly skilled jobs at the Chester Road plant.
The upcoming talks will be crucial. The workers and their trade union, Unite, have always been clear they are ready to enter discussions to save the plant from closure. However, it is clear that a solution will not be easy to find, and that is why we need Government to play their part in preventing the closure of this historic plant. I am pressing Ministers to act and will keep the pressure up on Melrose.
We must not allow the GKN plant to close.
Meeting with the Afghan Community
On Saturday, I met with members of the Afghan community from Erdington and the wider West Midlands to hear their experiences and to try to understand what support is needed for those who have come to the UK from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban seizing control.
Amongst those who came to the meeting was Abdul Latifi. Abdul is an Erdington resident who was in Afghanistan visiting family when the Taliban captured Kabul. Fortunately, my team and I were able to get Abdul and his family of 8, including his disabled son in a wheelchair, out of Afghanistan on one of the evacuation flights. It was wonderful to be able to welcome Abdul back home to Erdington once again.
However, there are many more eligible Afghans who we were unable to help leave. We will continue to do everything we can to help all those who are stuck in Afghanistan to leave as soon as possible.
At the meeting on Saturday, there was also an excellent discussion on the challenges faced by Afghan citizens who have come to the UK. Finding yourself in a strange country can be difficult at the best of times, but issues raised with me included language, housing, education, and job opportunities. Furthermore, due to the trauma of the terror they witnessed and experienced, many are suffering with their mental health and need specialist support.
We must do everything we can to support these refugees who are fleeing war and terror. We have a moral obligation to help them, just as the Afghan people have helped us for the past 20 years.
RoadPeace Anthology Launch
It was an honour to speak at the launch of the RoadPeace West Midlands anthology at St Martins Church in the Bullring.
Over 30 bereaved families have compiled a collection of moving stories in memory of their loved ones lost in road traffic crashes. Each one is a heart-breaking story of loss and all too often it involves drivers who have endangered the lives of others by reckless and dangerous driving.
Since becoming an MP, I have supported numerous families who have seen their loved ones killed in road crashes. I am also determined to make our roads safer, and we successfully campaigned for a change in the law so driving bans begin only after offenders have left prison after the death of Sarah Clark and have called for ‘Poppy’s Law’ after the death of Poppy Arabella Clarke which would mean medical professionals would be legally required to report those who are medically unfit to drive to the DVLA.
We must never accept road deaths as inevitable. Families are torn apart, never to be the same again, because of reckless and dangerous drivers and we must send an unmistakeable message to those who get behind a wheel when they are unfit to do so, or drive irresponsibly or recklessly, that they will be held responsible.
Currently, the law is far too lenient. We need tougher sentences for those who cause death on our roads and we must do all we can to prevent more families losing loved ones to road traffic crashes.
Erdington Street Pastors Launch
I was delighted to attend the launch of the Erdington Street Pastors on Saturday.
The Street Pastors are trained volunteers who will patrol the High Street offering advice and support to the vulnerable. There are currently 12 volunteers, but the aim is to increase this to 20 in the near future.
There have been growing problems of crime and anti-social behaviour on the High Street. There are many causes of this, but undoubtedly a major contributing factor is those with complex needs, such as addiction or homelessness, not receiving the appropriate support. By helping those in need, the hope is we can reduce anti-social behaviour by tackling the root causes.
I welcome this valuable initiative and look forward to seeing the positive impact the Street Pastors will have on our local community.
As always, if you or anyone you know needs support throughout this difficult period, then please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington