SINCE the increase in the energy price cap on April 1, the percentage of Welsh households facing energy poverty has risen to 45%, but the UK government remains idly by.
Huge oil and gas companies continue to benefit from circumstances not of their making, to the tune of billions of pounds. The Chancellor’s inaction is simply inexcusable.
This dithering over much-needed support for families amid a growing cost-of-living crisis is in line with the UK government’s record. Since the banking crisis, he has imposed austerity, created a damaging hard Brexit and drastically reduced support for workers.
It is no exaggeration to say that the British government’s political agenda since 2010 has made the current cost of living crisis worse.
This week marked the culmination of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, which detailed Mr Johnson’s legislative priorities for the year ahead.
Against the backdrop of the highest inflation in generations, the rhetoric has been disappointing in its lack of empathy and proposed action, while the lack of ideas on how to mitigate the painful impact that the rising inflation inflicts on household budgets was staggering.
Instead, government ministers are bickering among themselves over whether an emergency package to tackle energy bills underscored by a windfall tax on energy majors aligns with doctrine conservative.
While government ministers are obsessed with ideological purity, Plaid Cymru is unequivocal – we need an emergency budget.
The collapse of the standard of living goes hand in hand with the collapse of international trade.
By pursuing the toughest possible form of Brexit, which the UK government is now reneging on at the risk of a trade war, the Tories have made it unnecessarily difficult – and expensive – for Welsh businesses to trade with their closest neighbours.
Sadly, this is the result of the dangerous combination of a ruling party that is drained of ideas and driven by ideology rather than pragmatism. This is particularly dangerous for Wales, given our chronically high levels of poverty and our vulnerability to rising energy prices due to inefficient housing and weak grid capacity.
Indeed, given the cost of living and climate crisis, the Queen’s Speech was yet another missed opportunity to reset the ‘race to the top’ agenda by reinvigorating economic and social agreements between nations and regions of the UK.
After all, page 15 of the Welsh Conservative manifesto promised ‘no part of the UK would lose from the withdrawal of EU funding’, while page 29 declared that ‘Wales will lose no power or funding because of our exit from the EU”.
Instead, the government’s ‘upgrade’ scheme has resulted in a £772m shortfall for Wales and has been described by a Welsh government minister as ‘an attack on Welsh devolution “.
It’s no wonder the opening of the ‘Elizabeth Line’ this week – also known as Crossrail – a London-only infrastructure project that cost more than £18billion, didn’t receive a warm welcome to Wales.
After all, the Tory government has consistently refused to transfer Barnett’s £5billion that Wales are set to receive due to their HS2 spending in England.
The “race to the top” quickly becomes a joke.
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The Queen’s speech included little relief or comfort for struggling households and small businesses. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on energy poverty, I was particularly disappointed by the government’s inaction on energy bills.
Rising energy bills are causing unprecedented economic hardship for households and businesses, especially in rural areas such as Ceredigion where 35% of my constituents – off the grid – rely on oil for fuel.
Before the speech, I urged the government to consider proposals such as ECO4 – the energy company’s obligation – and a new social tariff to strengthen the protection of vulnerable customers, increase the visibility and generosity of programs such as the Discretionary Assistance Fund and expanding programs such as the Rural Fund. Exemption from fuel duty in Wales.
Small businesses also need support, and the Queen’s Speech was a missed opportunity to announce the extension of price caps to small and medium-sized businesses.
A hotel business in Gwynedd has seen its energy bills rise by 450%, putting its future at risk.
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I am of the opinion that good companies should not be allowed to go bankrupt because of energy bills, and certainly not because of the dithering of the UK government.
While we can now enjoy the summer, a painful autumn is coming. The UK government must therefore introduce an emergency budget now to anticipate the crisis and protect households and businesses from its worst impacts.
Given the scale and pain of the crisis, UK government inaction is simply not a price Wales can afford to pay.
Ben Lake is the Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion
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