LONDON, Aug 15 (Reuters) – Britain’s main opposition Labour Party called on Monday for the energy price cap to be frozen this autumn to help the public deal with another expected surge in fuel bills during the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said his party, if in power, would cap energy costs at the current level of 1,971 pounds ($2,386) per year for six months from October and would pay for it by extending the windfall tax on oil and gas companies in the North Sea.
The 29 billion-pound plan is aimed at increasing pressure on foreign minister Liz Truss and former finance minister Rishi Sunak, the two Conservative Party politicians vying to be Britain’s next prime minister after Boris Johnson said he would step down. Both have so far promised more limited help.
Charities in Britain are warning that millions of people could be forced into poverty if the government does not soften the blow with a new support package.
“We would make sure these energy price increases do not go ahead in the autumn and so instead of allowing the prices to go up and then trying to rebate people, we’re going to cut the problem at source and stop those price increases,” Starmer told the BBC.
“We’re going to pay for it by extending the windfall tax on oil and gas companies in the North Sea who’ve made much bigger profits than they expected.”
He ruled out temporarily nationalising energy companies which refuse to lower bills – a suggestion made by Labour’s former prime minister, Gordon Brown, who appeared to criticise Starmer for going on holiday last week at a time of crisis.
The government has said it is offering a 37-pound package of help, with 8 million of the most vulnerable households receiving 1,200 pounds of direct support.
Russia’s move to cut gas exports to the West following its invasion of Ukraine has driven up bills across Europe, forcing governments in Italy, France and elsewhere to intervene to protect their citizens. France has capped electricity tariff rises at 4%.
The forecasting group Cornwall Insight estimates that average British annual bills for gas and electricity will jump to 3,582 pounds in October and 4,266 pounds in January. Earlier this year the price cap was 1,277 pounds.
Truss, the favourite to be Britain’s next prime minister, has faced criticism from political opponents and charities for appearing to rule out further “handouts” and, seeking to appeal to fiscally Conservative Party members, has not committed to increasing direct support to consumers.
($1 = 0.8260 pounds)
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Kirsten Donovan