Partygate may be the political chat but for most people it’s the fuel crisis that dominates. Johnson’s a sideshow, even war in Europe’s just a tragedy on their TV screen.
For them, it’s the relentless grind of worrying whether they’ll be able to not just heat but power their home that afflicts. It’s much more than the simply the invidious choice of eating or heating and involves other life essentials. If your child has a school iPad, when the powers switched off how can you charge it, let alone your own phone that’s now vital for much more than just a cosy chat? How do you wash your work clothes or the kids’ ones for school, and more frighteningly, if you’re being treated medically at home and require equipment always kept on? Just what do you do then? No wonder there’s real fear.
It’s why power and fuel should be zero rated for VAT, just as with food. It’s not a luxury but an essential. We’re blessed that the weathers fair, and summer will soon be here. But for those struggling with the most recent hikes further increases, as bad if not worse, come October, must be a recurrent nightmare.
The Chancellors efforts to mitigate it have been as feeble as excuses for frankly dubious tax affairs. Enquiries about actions that could be of assistance to many are frequently met with the trite defence that it’s a matter for Ofgem. They are of course the quango charged with regulating the gas and electricity supply. But they’re a creature of statute, a quango wholly beholden to the UK Government. They can neither act outwith their remit nor seek to unilaterally extend it. In a nutshell they must do as they’re “telt” by Ministers.
Yet there are simple things that Ofgem could do, if only they were allowed or directed. The disgraceful loading of charges onto the poorest and most vulnerable through the higher tariff for those on pre-paid meters should end. It’s not a technical issue. The power companies could do it relatively easily. It would mean a modest increase for those on credit payments but that’s a small price for those who’re fortunate but providing some relief to those who aren’t. But that’s not specified in their instructions from government and hence it’s blocked by political failure not technical challenges.
Similarly, there’s unregulated fuels, mostly heating oil but also LPG and biomass. Approximately 240,000 Scottish households depend on them to heat their home. But they aren’t included in the licensing instructions given by Government to Ofgem. Accordingly, they can’t be capped as they’re simply outside scope. Yet, anyone dependent on heating oil, as many in rural and northern parts of Scotland are, will tell you that their fuel costs have increased much more than even their power bills.
Scotland’s energy rich and its perverse Scots are fuel poor. But just as war in Ukraine’s not the real reason for the rises, it’s not Ofgem but the Government to blame.