The House of Lords debated a motion to take note of the government’s Economic Growth Plan on 10th October 2022. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, and look forward to working with her. I also add my lament at the departure of our dear right reverend friend, who has to me also been a great friend and a great encourager.
Two of the most important lessons many of us learned during the pandemic were, first, that we were all in it together and that none of us was immune, and secondly, that no one should be left behind, which meant focusing on the most vulnerable, with all of us sharing the load. As His Majesty’s Government embarks on this bold and, I believe, risky economic experiment, I urge that those two lessons be heeded, for we ignore them at our peril.
I will make two points. We are all in this together, and we and our children and grandchildren are together in this dangerous time of climate crisis. Therefore, I must raise my concerns relating to the environmental impact of some of the announcements made in the Government’s plan for growth. While I welcome the commitment to low-carbon energy sources and the desire to
“unlock the potential of onshore wind by bringing consenting in line with other infrastructure”,
I share concerns about ending the pause on extracting reserves of shale gas, and a new round of licences for oil and gas extraction. These are retrogressive steps that will harm not only our progress in attaining vital environmental targets but our credibility in encouraging other nations to respond to the climate crisis. The Government seem to be giving with one hand and taking away with the other, and in the long run these steps make little economic or strategic sense to me, when all our effort and investment should be focused on renewables.
Secondly, the measure of any society is how it treats the poor and the most vulnerable, as we learned during the pandemic. I fear that the Government’s plan for economic growth in itself betrays a lack of awareness of the real and acute pressures facing lower-income households at this time. In my beloved Suffolk, in 2020 there were 48,000 households in fuel poverty. This year, according to the Suffolk Community Foundation, on which I serve as a patron, even with the energy price cap, that will rise to at least 75,000 households, and probably closer to 100,000—more than a quarter of all Suffolk households. Again in Suffolk, close to 29% of properties are off-grid for gas—double the national average for England. That is 29% that do not benefit from the cap on gas prices. I know that the Government have recognised the need to support those off grid by offering an additional £100 per year in support but, given the price of fuel oil, that will barely make a dent. I ask the Government to ensure that those without access to mains gas are not overlooked as discussions continue.
As so many have noted, the growth plan’s proposed tax cuts are untargeted and hardly aid the poor and most vulnerable. Even at present, we are hearing of pensioners having to go back to work to make ends meet, and more young working parents in Suffolk come with embarrassment for the first time to a food bank or a top-up shop to be able to feed their family. Please do not make this situation worse. Incidentally, we have become far too familiar with and dependent on food banks, and they are now struggling to find enough donated food to meet demand.
The number of people in Suffolk claiming universal credit has risen from roughly 30,000 in February 2020 to 54,000 in May 2022. I join those calling for an uprating of benefits in line with the CPI inflation rate. If His Majesty’s Government are to continue on this path, I plead with them to have both a climate strategy and an anti-poverty strategy that shape and are absolutely intrinsic to the growth plan, not dispensable options. We are all in this together; no one must be left behind.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Callanan (Con, Minister of State): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Edmundsbury and Ipswich—he must have the longest title in the House—also raised the important subject of energy poverty. In addition to the extensive support I have just mentioned to support people who need additional help on top of the warm homes discount, the Government are also providing an extra £500 million of local support via the household support fund, which will be extended from this October to March 2023. The household support fund helps those in most need with payments towards the rising cost of food, energy and water bills.
The Government are also aware—again, this point was raised by many Members—that the energy price guarantee will leave those households currently with unregulated energy sources, such as those living off the gas grid, with uncapped bills this winter. However, our objective is that all households, regardless of their heating source, will be no worse off than an equivalent domestic gas household under the energy price guarantee.
As the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Walmsley, and again, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Edmundsbury and Ipswich, noted, there is more at stake here, and there is a need for a more holistic approach. That is why the Government are investing more than £6.6 billion over this Parliament to improve energy efficiency and decarbonise heating. Despite the comments of some Members, we are making good, steady progress on this issue. In 2008, 9% of homes had an energy performance certificate of C or above, and that figure is now 46%. Meanwhile, the energy company obligation, or ECO, has been extended from 2022 to 2026, boosting its value from £640 million to £1 billion a year, which will help about 450,000 families with green measures such as insulation. I am sure that it did not escape the attention of Members that last week the Chancellor announced an additional £1 billion investment over three years in the ECO-plus energy efficiency scheme—something I am sure we will return to in this House when we bring the legislation forward to implement it.
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