Martin Lewis: What I asked the Chancellor to do when I spoke to him on Monday...
With the announcement of the Government's energy cost of living plans due out at lunchtime, I thought I'd speedily bash out a note down of what (from memory) I'd asked the Chancellor for when we spoke on Monday – and the other general suggestions I've been making.
This isn't necessarily a prediction of what he will do, more to be transparent about what I'd suggested.
Clearly though this is a Conservative Chancellor, so the asks had to be plausible within that context. I shall leave big picture 'how the state should work' to others (as frankly this was a great influencing opportunity, so best to stay practical). I kept the Ofgem stuff out of it too, as the reply on that is always: 'it's an independent regulator'.
1. Sooner not later. Any help needs to be announced quickly. The mental health toll of the cost of living crisis is building. There's panic brewing for some about the huge 42% rise in energy prices coming in October. People need peace of mind now – even if the help can't kick in until then.
When we spoke, the context was whether the announcement would be in July. I'm pleased it's happening quicker, even if it's likely we have Sue Gray to thank for that.
2. The urgent priority is those who face choosing between freezing and starving. The Government has little power over many worldwide supply-side inflationary factors, but what it does have the power to do is to mitigate the impact of them – or at least the distributional impact of inflation.
This is a genuine crisis for many that risks lives, so focused money to help those who need it most is critical.
I asked him to look at a rapid mid-year inflation catch-up increase in Universal Credit (and legacy benefits) and substantial boost of the Warm Home Discount – which helps pensioners, both of which target the help where it is needed most. (Just as a note before some say it, this is not just about those who don't work, many on Universal Credit are in work.)
3. Disabilities. There are many with disabilities (or those whose children have disabilities) who have energy bills far higher than average – due to keeping life-supporting machines on, often 24 hours a day, for whom these rises are adding many thousands of pounds a year.
I put this to Health Secretary Sajid Javid when I interviewed him on Good Morning Britain, and he said he'd take it to cabinet, but I heard nothing. So I asked the Chancellor again on Monday to make sure there was some targeted support for those worst affected within this category. I got a decent reaction on this, so am hopeful for something.
4. Yet a 120% rise in energy bills over a year is unaffordable even for those higher up the income net. In March this year the energy price cap was £1,271 for someone on typical use, by October it is likely to be £2,800. That £1,500 rise doesn't just hurt the poorest, it is lifestyle-curtailing for many people even with decent middle incomes.
It's worth noting here that the nation is divided financially. While many are struggling, in total £165 billion of extra rainy-day savings was built up (often from working-from-home gains) during the pandemic. Well today it is raining, so some will be expected to use those. The whole increase won't be met for those who can shoulder more cost.
Yet help is needed. My main suggestion was to extend the council tax band A-D grant (which I think, while far from perfect, is at least a somewhat decent proxy for household energy bills, has a very loose form of means-testing, and now the system is set up can be done quickly) providing the discretionary fund is extended too.
I also suggested – and was blunt that I thought this would be a politically popular move – to convert the coming October £200 loan-not-loan into a grant. In our (YouGov) poll on this, 56% would opt out of the loan-not-loan if they could and less than 30% would opt in.
It was a gamble on energy prices coming down next April, which is looking very unlikely. So a straight grant (and hopefully a bigger one) here would be popular.
I know some are worried about prepay meter recipients getting this. I agree it's tricky. I didn't discuss that with the Chancellor due to time, but that is something the MSE Campaigns team has been feeding through in our submission on the structure of the payment.
They were my main energy suggestions. It'll be interesting to see how many of them are met and, crucially, the scale of support given in each one.