MP warns of gas crisis 'triple whammy' for families

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has warned of families facing a ‘triple whammy’ - as the gas crisis joins National Insurance rises and Universal Credit cuts as looming financial threats.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has admitted hard-pressed families will face a “difficult winter” with rising bills because of the a spike in global gas prices which has left energy companies struggling and had a knock-on effect on food supplies.

Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy figures show that, in South Tyneside, 10,457 households out of 70,930 in the borough were alreadey classed as being in fuel poverty – 15% – in 2019.

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Mrs Lewell-Buck says she is in no doubt where the blame lies.

Energy bill fears

She said: “Families in Shields are facing a devastating triple whammy – rising energy prices, National Insurance rises, and a cut to Universal Credit.

"People should be in no doubt that the bleak months ahead are down to successive Tory Governments.

"Had they brought the energy supply sector into public ownership, there would have been more infrastructure, more investment into renewables, combatting climate change and halting rising prices.

"Instead we are faced with a further hit to living costs, disruption to our food supply, our heating and electricity.”

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck. Picture by FRANK REID

She added: “Had they tackled the crisis in social care with a wealth tax then there would be no need for a National Insurance rise and, had they ensured work really did pay and addressed insecure working arrangements, then millions of working people wouldn’t be reliant on Universal Credit.”

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Mr Kwarteng admitted the combination of rising gas prices and the looming £20 a week cut to Universal Credit was a “difficult situation” and said he had spoken to Cabinet colleagues including Chancellor Rishi Sunak about the pressures facing households.

The Government and industry regulator Ofgem have agreed the price cap on energy will remain in place despite concerns about the impact it will have on firms left unable to pass on costs to customers.

Mr Kwarteng said: “I’ve been very clear that the energy price cap is staying even though some energy companies are asking for it to be removed, I’ve been very clear that it’s staying, so we’re protecting customers there.

“We’ve also got the warm home discount, winter fuel payments, which are again focused on the most vulnerable customers.

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"So, we’re completely focused on helping vulnerable customers through this winter, particularly with regard to energy prices.”

On the issue of Universal Credit, he said: “It’s a difficult situation. It could be a very difficult winter.

“That’s why, as energy minister, I’m very focused on helping people that are fuel poor.”

The rise in energy costs has led to a crisis in the food supply chain because of a shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2), produced as a by-product in fertiliser plants.

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The gas is used to stun animals prior to slaughter and also forms part of the protective packaging used to keep foods fresh.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said shoppers may notice that products are missing from supermarket shelves “in about 10 days”.

Ministers and industry figures have said there is no risk of the lights going out this winter, with energy supplies secure despite the rising costs.