A perfect storm of soaring inflation, interest rate rises and rapidly increasing energy costs are combining to create the most worrying set of economic conditions seen in this country for decades, with a recession looming and no end to the terrible news in sight.
Much has been made of the Government’s inaction as the Conservative Party has spent most of the Summer selecting it’s new leader.
The eventual winner will inherit a situation far worse than the one which the Coalition Government headed up by David Cameron faced back in 2010. And that was followed by years of extremely painful austerity policies, in case you had forgotten.
What is perhaps most worrying is that nothing remotely close to a concensus appears to exist on how the current energy price crisis should be tackled, although the energy companies are lobbying for a price freeze.
Instead politicians and economists continue to throw around figures running into billions of pounds for this, that and the other, which the vast majority of us just cannot comprehend.
Private landlords are selling up to avoid the expense of improving property energy efficiency
The one thing which most of the experts appear to agree on is that things are going to get much worse before they start to get better AND the current dire situation is likely to last for at least another two years.
Most attention is currently focused on the energy price cap, with forecasts of staggering increases in the coming year, rising from £1,971 for the average household now to around £3,359 (according to Cornwall Insight) up to £3,576 (Auxilione) from October. The lower sum represents a 70% increase, whereas the higher one is over 80% higher.
It is then predicted to rise again early next year, although the sums do vary considerably according to different energy consultancies and updates from the global markets. But we do know that prices will be changing every three months and for the next year that means regular price hikes.
Auxilione’s predictions are at the higher end, possibly reaching £4,704 in January and £5,856 in April, before falling back slightly to £5,235 in July 2023. Cornwall Insight predict an increase to £4,266 and then a high of £4,426, before falling back to £3,781. But the figures are being frequently adjusted, so who knows?
My energy supplier recently wrote to its customers to explain that the UK usually spends £11 billion buying the gas to deliver to homes, and to generate electricity for them. This year because of the impact of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine on global energy markets, the nation’s bill has jumped nearly fivefold to £51 billion.
While many of us are likely to welcome some cooller weather in September after the record breaking temperatures experienced in July and August, this is similar to giving the lull before the storm an over the top greeting.
In fact ‘the lull’ will be over in a matter of weeks, almost before it has begun, when colder weather fronts start to roll in from the Atlantic, with the possibility of meteorological storms battering us alongside the financial ones.
By a cruel twist of fate the houses and flats that were baking hot a few weeks ago, will soon become the cold and damp properties that are difficult and costly to keep warm in the Winter months. Factors like poor insulation and draughty windows blight the properties in both hot and cold weather.
The new Prime Minister will be under huge pressure almost immediately to increase the level of energy support for households – calculated at £15 billion last May, so that millions of people can both eat properly and heat their homes in the months ahead.
Estimates of the number of households that will be in fuel poverty this Winter are rising exponentially, with some experts predicting that over half the British population will fall within the traditional definition of energy costs exceeding 10% of a household’s net income.
The typical response is often to limit the length of time heating is put on for, which when taken to extremes can result in hypothermia, pneumonia and increased hospital admissions. Sadly there are already an estimated 10,000 deaths a year associated with cold homes during our Winter months.
That figure could be dwarfed in the coming Winter, putting huge additional pressures on the NHS not only because of increased demands for health services, but allied to an inability to discharge patients into freezing properties, with thousands of elderly people lacking the means to heat their homes.
Research from the University of York estimates that two-thirds of all UK households will be trapped in fuel poverty by January with planned Government support leaving even middle-income households struggling to pay their bills.
A frightening Winter ahead
The York research shows 18 million families (equivalent to 45 million people) will be left struggling to make ends meet after further rises in the energy price cap in October and January.
An estimated 86.4% of pensioner couples are expected to fall into fuel poverty and 90.4% of lone parents with two or more children. Those figures are truly alarming and they should demand an urgent change in approach.
Caroline Abrahams, the head of Age UK has warned of a frightening winter ahead. “Age UK fear that because fuel prices will be so high, some older people will skip meals and switch off their heating to try to save money, putting their health at serious risk. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that some could die as a result and that’s something we would ever say lightly.”
Traditionally it is older homes in the private rented sector that suffer from the worst levels of insulation, but at the predicted energy price levels there will be huge numbers affected by the double whammy of cold weather and high fuel bills in all tenures.
High numbers of private landlords are either selling up, or are converting their properties into holiday lets, in order to avoid the expense of bringing their rentals up to energy efficiency category C as well as other regulatory requirements. This is squeezing the private rentals market and adding to the current problem of demand exceeding supply, which is forcing rent levels up.
But until Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine is over and their troops withdraw, it is impossible to see global energy markets returning to something approaching normality.
Whether the new Prime Minister can lessen the impact of this on the British population remains to be seen.