NEW FIGURES HIGHLIGHT GROWING 'FUEL POVERTY' PROBLEM IN NEWCASTLE

February 28, 2009 12:01 AM

Soaring energy bills have left an estimated 26,000 households in Newcastle in fuel poverty this winter, according to new figures highlighted by the Liberal Democrats.

Newcastle North Parliamentary spokesman Ron Beadle is demanding the Government act urgently to help people struggling to pay their fuel bills and is calling on MPs of all parties to back the Fuel Poverty Bill being introduced by Liberal Democrat MP David Heath.

He said: "These new estimates from Consumer Focus are truly shocking.

"Nearly a fifth of households here in Newcastle are in fuel poverty this winter, including four out of five single pensioner households.

"This is even worse than the situation nationally.

"It's not hard to see the culprit. Over the last five years average gas and electricity bills have more than doubled.

"The prices being paid by energy companies for fuel on the wholesale markets are coming down, but the companies aren't passing on the cuts to their customers.

"And meanwhile they are making big profits. This is totally unacceptable.

"As a result growing numbers of people are struggling to afford to heat their homes.

"As recession bites, here in Newcastle and across the country an increasing number of people are being faced with the dreadful choice between heating and eating.

"I am calling on the Government to take urgent action to help people struggling with high fuel bills.

"The Fuel Poverty Bill currently in Parliament, proposed by Liberal Democrat MP David Heath, would deliver a massive home insulation programme which would halve the energy needed to heat the average home.

"And it would end the scandal of those who use pre-pay meters - generally the least well-off - paying higher rates for their gas and electricity.

"The Government must give it their support.

"And energy companies, who have made billions in windfall profits from the European Emissions Trading Scheme, must be made to pay for the programme, as well as being told to cut bills faster for their customers."