Here's a question I asked to the First Minister yesterday regarding fuel poverty:
Leanne Wood: Will the First Minister make a statement on the number of people experiencing fuel poverty in Wales?
The First Minister: In 2004, there were 134,000 fuel-poor households. It was forecast that there would be 166,000 fuel-poor households in 2005, and 240,000 in 2006. Clearly, because of rocketing fuel prices, we would have expected the number to go well above 240,000.
Leanne Wood: First Minister, the figures that I have indicate that the number of people experiencing fuel poverty almost doubled between 2004 and 2006. In addition, today’s press highlights the vast inequalities between fuel consumers in England and Wales. People’s bills have rocketed recently, yet energy companies are creaming off massive profits. The UK Government has been criticised this week for failing to stop these companies from making excessive profits on the back of some of the most vulnerable people in society. Some of the measures that could combat fuel poverty include an increase in the winter fuel allowance, an expansion of the winter fuel allowance to include other vulnerable groups, intervention to reduce the inequalities faced by those people who have prepayment meters, and intervention to reduce the inequalities between fuel bill payers in England and Wales. Will you lobby your Westminster colleagues on the implementation of some, or all, of these measures? Also, do you support the devolution of powers over utilities?
The First Minister: We would say that competitive rates need to be provided through social tariffs, or other means, to the least well off. We had a discussion about this last week. On the question of prepayment meters, which are generally used by those who find it difficult to budget, usually because they are less well off, the meters have higher rates because of the administrative costs. This means that these people pay more than those who pay via monthly direct debit or who receive quarterly bills. There is a lack of logic to that, as those who are the least well off should have the best treatment. We in Wales are particularly subject to high tariffs, and have been for about 10 to 15 years, and the figures revealed this morning make it even more of a pressing issue. Pensioner families and those who are less well off should have access to the most competitive prices.