After emerging from brutal July heat waves, the United Kingdom is headed for a harsh winter, with an 80% jump in energy bills expected to strain millions of households and businesses.
Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem said a typical household gas and electricity bill will rise to US$4,188 per year, illustrating how the country’s tenuous energy security will hit poorer residents forced to choose between heating and food.
“This is a catastrophe,” said leading consumer rights champion Martin Lewis, warning that people will die this winter if they are unable to cook food or heat their homes.
Just months ago, UK residents suffered the worst effects of extremely high temperatures due to climate change. Officials attribute more than 1,500 extra deaths to the three heat waves that took place across several dates in July. Now, with winter due to settle in soon, a spike in British energy bills will plunge “millions of households into fuel poverty and businesses into jeopardy unless the government steps in,” reports Reuters.
Prices are expected to continue rising into 2023 and peak in the year’s second quarter. Tight supplies are affecting all of Europe, but the UK is especially vulnerable due to its dependence on gas for heat and power, Reuters says. Government action has been hampered by the race to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with the two remaining candidates—Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former finance minister Rishi Sunak—clashing over how to respond and leaving worrisome doubts about a timely solution.
Still, “both sides have acknowledged that the poorest in society will need support,” the news agency writes.
But strained budgets will force many people to cut back on adequate food or energy, or both. Experts says this could lead to declining health due to poor nutrition, and from persistent cold living conditions that can produce respiratory issues and, in the case of older people, heart attacks, reports BBC.
“Many people could face the awful choice between skipping meals to heat their homes and having to live in cold, damp, and very unpleasant conditions,” said National Health Service CEO Matthew Taylor.
“This in turn could lead to outbreaks of illness and sickness around the country and widen health inequalities, worsen children’s life chances, and leave an indelible scar on local communities,” he added.
Businesses will also be affected—as one example, seven in 10 pub owners expect to go out of business due to unaffordable energy bills unless the government helps them, the Daily Mail writes.
“The lack of support for businesses from the government is shocking,” said Ed Bedington, editor of The Morning Advertiser. “While effort is focused on helping consumers, the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs due to a lack of business support, is a crisis the government seems to be either missing or ignoring.”
Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is a major contributor to the energy crisis. And Russia’s practice of burning off surplus gas supplies, while only a border away from European countries struggling with fuel prices, is a potent reminder of the warring country’s dominance of the fossil fuel economy—and its power to affect the global market.
The UK recently secured a record 11 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity that will deliver electricity at just one-ninth the price of current gas supplies, Carbon Brief writes. The new capacity will come online over the next five years.