On Tuesday, an important debate took place in the Commons Chamber on energy bills. A large focus rested on the unfair charges for payment other than direct debit.
45% of standard electricity customers and 43% of gas customers in the UK don’t pay using direct debit, yet energy companies charge, on average, £115 extra for people who do not pay by direct debit – this hits pensioners and the poorest the most.
1 million people of those who do not pay by direct debit do not even have bank accounts, yet they subsidise those who do pay for their energy bills using direct debit.
I know, from speaking with people in my constituency, that financial exclusion is a real issue. For example, the closure of Ryhill Post Office has left my constituents with almost no financial services at all in their village. Many of my constituents live in rural areas without access to banks or ATM’s and for many access to the internet is extremely limited, making paying by direct debit largely unfeasible.
The practice of overcharging people who do not pay by direct debit, in order to target the lowest prices at the most active end of the market, is part of a broader problem in the energy sector. It’s unfair, unjustifiable and against the rules for energy companies to cash in on their most loyal customers or to penalise customers for their payment methods.
In other industries companies have all kinds of schemes to reward their most loyal customers, but in the energy market loyal customers pay most. It is difficult to explain the reasoning behind these price variations other than the fact that suppliers are charging what they think they can get away with.
These revelations show why we need a tough new regulator – replacing Ofgem which has totally failed in protecting the most loyal and vulnerable customers – as well as reforms to the energy market to stop these firms from overcharging. And until these reforms kick in, a Labour Government will put a stop to unfair price rises by freezing energy bills until 2017.
My constituency is a rural one. The area consists of a series of former mining villages
On top of soaring energy bills, recently, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee found that rural households pay on average £2,700 per year more on every day goods compared to those in urban areas.
One Nation Labour would tackle the cost of living crisis in rural areas.
One Nation Labour would bring off grid energy under the control of a new energy regulator which we will have set up by 2015, we would abolish the bedroom tax which has a greater effect of splitting families and causing neighbourhood disruption in rural communities and we would tackle digital exclusion by transferring £75million into a digital fund which would allow businesses and constituents in rural communities to enjoy the same advantages as people in urban areas, enabling them, if they desire, to pay by direct debit and use conveniences such as online banking
On Wednesday, the Labour Party initiated debates to call the Government into question concerning the ongoing A& E crisis and the drastic fall in living standards.
We called on the Government to reverse its changes to the NHS competition policy; a policy that isholding back the integration needed to help solve the A&E crisis by diverting essential resources which should be better spent on improving patient care.
The stark reality is that in the last 12 months, our hospitals have been pushed into total chaos. Emergency admissions have increased by 633,000 in the first three years of this Government, compared to 16,000 in the last three years of the Labour Government. This, in turn, has led to almost one million people having to wait more than four hours to be seen in A&E.
The Coalition has caused the A&E crisis by denying people adequate alternatives to access health care and advice, for example, by cutting a quarter of walk in centres and by abolishing NHS Direct. What's more, the guarantee of a GP appointment within 48 hours has been scrapped and now the Royal College of GPs are warning that it will soon be normal to wait a week for an appointment –for many people in my area, this has already become reality.
Every day I see how this crisis is directly affecting people within my constituency. I regularly receive letters of concern regarding the poor service my constituents receive from the local NHS. The complaints do not question the hard work and dedication of NHS staff but the problems clearly associated with underfunding. Many constituents have been seriously affected by the lack of room and waiting times in Pontefract and Pinderfields A&E departments and are therefore left waiting for hours, being given inadequate care or transferred elsewhere. My constituents also regularly express concern that they cannot book appointments when necessary and many appointments are being cancelled without warning.
The NHS would be better off under a Labour Government; we would stop the fragmentation and privatisation and put NHS values back at the heart of healthcare. We would make it work in the era in which we live.
Labour also called on the Government to adopt a proper industrial strategy to help create more high-skilled, better paid jobs so Britain can earn its way out of the cost of living crisis with stronger and better-balanced growth.
We are all well versed in David Cameron’s rhetoric that Britain is in a ‘global race’ and continually professing that the economy is back on track, but nobody I speak to feels any better off. Low skilled jobs, stagnant wages and sky high electricity bills are just a few of the struggles faced by many of my constituents.
As we all know, the quality of life for families across Britain has seriously decreased under the watch of the Coalition, with the working person being at an average £1,600 a year worse off.
I know, from listening to the concerns raised by my constituents, job security is an enormous worry. Due to the prevalence of warehouse and factory jobs in my constituency many individuals are working under zero hours contracts, some of them for agencies.
There has been a marked rise in the number of employees on zero-hours contracts since 2010, with some estimates that there could be as many as 1 million employees on them. A recent YouGov poll demonstrates that the number of people feeling insecure at work has almost doubled in the past three years since the Tory-led government took office from 6.5million to 12million.
It is clear the pressure is on, people are feeling the strain in all areas of life but unfortunately, we have a government that gives tax cuts to millionaires whilst millions suffer.
The way we tackle the cost of living crisis is by building an economy that works for working people. We need to make work pay in order to see more balanced growth and create high-skilled, better paid jobs so we, together, can earn our way out of the cost of living crisis.
Britain will only succeed in the 21st Century with a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.