Ian Austin MP

Labour MP for Dudley North

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Dudley Chronicle, 29 August

Bills are rising and wages are falling, but the government has done nothing to help.  

 

 ENERGY BILL COCK-UP COULD PUSH BILLS HIGHER

Energy bills are one of the biggest costs facing households at the moment. People I meet in Dudley ask me all the time – why do energy prices always rise and never seem to fall?

Bills are rising and wages are falling, but the government has done nothing to help. As a result, working families face rip-off energy bills that are £200 higher than they were three years ago.

The government just doesn’t understand how hard this is hitting people. Their only idea is to force energy companies to offer just four different tariffs each.

They just don’t get it. Hard working families need the government to cut their bills, not cut their options.

Now there are reports that energy companies are scrapping cheaper tariffs and keeping more expensive ones. EDF Energy and SSE have sent letters to thousands of customers informing them that they’re being moved to a more expensive tariff because their cheap tariff is being scrapped “as a result of new regulations”.

What a mess. Sadly it’s not the only one, with just one family benefiting from the government’s much vaunted Green Deal insulation scheme. I’ve heard from constituents who tick every box for the government’s insulation schemes, but just can’t get energy companies to stump up.

Energy giants have enjoyed a £3.3 billion windfall on David Cameron’s watch. We desperately need a tough new watchdog to stand up for consumers, breaking the dominance of the six big energy companies and forcing them to pass on price cuts.

Bedroom Tax

Earlier this year I warned that the Bedroom Tax could cost more money than it saves.

Everyone agrees making larger homes available for overcrowded families is a good thing, but you’ve got to make homes available for people to move to.

With the number of homes being built having collapsed under this government to the lowest levels since the 1920s, there just aren’t enough smaller homes for the families affected.

Now we’re seeing the real cost of the Bedroom Tax. In the first three months of the policy rent arrears in Dudley have leaped by 50 per cent, 39 families have gone to court, and just 81 tenants out of 3,333 have actually moved into smaller properties.

That’s a disaster, and it’s the same story nationally. Across the country 96 per cent of those affected don’t have a smaller home to move into. Difficulties implementing the policy are already costing the public an extra £102.5 million.

And the Bedroom Tax isn’t going to get any cheaper. I’m worried that costs will only increase from here on out as more families fall into arrears, become homeless, or move to private homes with sky-high rents.

Benefits

The bigger picture on work and benefits is just as bad.

Unemployment means that the benefits bill is £20 billion higher than planned. Youth unemployment is edging back towards a million. Long-term unemployment is rising.

We’ve got to get the economy working to provide the jobs people need. Then I want to see a new approach to welfare underpinned by clear principles of hard work.

First, no one should be better off out of work than in work. For hard-working people, there is nothing more infuriating than hearing that people living on benefits are just as well off. That’s why I agree with the principle that benefits must be capped.

Second, everyone must be prepared to work. I want to see every young and long-term unemployed person guaranteed a paid job that they must do or face losing benefits.

Third, there needs to be more help for those who have worked hard for years and have lost their jobs through no fault of their own in the recession. Currently they get the same basic help as someone who has been out of work for years. That isn’t always appropriate, and what they really need is targeted support to get them straight back into work.

Fourth, we have to get the benefits bill down. That means dropping policies that are actually costing the taxpayer money, like the Bedroom Tax. Instead we need to look at long-term reforms, like investing in new affordable homes instead of paying out billions of pounds in rent through Housing Benefit.

 

 

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