The case for government intervention on energy prices has now become the burning issue, so to speak, in economic policy.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey claims that the rolling back of energy efficiency, insulation and social schemes would save the consumer about £50 a year on their gas and electricity bills (your report, 3 December).
By a curious irony, this is the same amount by which the coalition government reduced the winter fuel payment (WFP) for those between 60 and 80 in one of Chancellor George Osborne’s first budgets (it was reduced by £100 for single pensioners over 80).
Given the angst over pressure on household incomes, concern about fuel poverty, and market abuse by the energy companies, those reductions now appear to be downright wrong.
The right to a warm home should outweigh the clamour for means testing over fuel payments.
Indeed, it calls into question Labour’s credibility on its proposed price freeze after the 2015 general election.
Last summer shadow chancellor Ed Balls declared that Labour would take away the benefit from pensioners in the higher tax brackets.
So arguably any benefits that income group would gain from a freeze would be quickly cancelled out by the withdrawal of WFP.
Apart from that, people’s circumstances could suddenly change and they could be left without an important form of help at a difficult time in their lives.
The reduction in WFP was justified by Mr Osborne claiming that the previous Labour administration had only raised it as an emergency measure.
But these appear to be times of emergency for all those either struggling or having difficulty meeting the cost of fuel.
There is a case for strong intervention in the energy market and part of that should be the need for the coalition and opposition at Westminster to increase the WFP and keep it at a civilised level for all.
As our politicians spend much energy claiming they are doing all they can to reduce household energy costs, let us consider a few issues which need addressing, namely the tools available – or not – to many as they pay their energy bills.
Politicians, earning large salaries, often forget that many households do not have access to a bank account and so cannot pay by direct debit.
Many households were offered payment terms by the large energy providers that allowed them to pay at their local Post Office – again, not paying by direct debit.
Then we have those who have a “White Meter” and pay as they use. All those non-direct debit methods of payment command much higher tariffs, even if the customer has remained with the one supplier for many years.
Energy companies give no loyalty rewards, only exploitation of many vulnerable customers in this scenario. This needs to be addressed by the coalition politicians who have it within their powers to assist the vulnerable this winter.
Catriona C Clark