I must apologise to the House; Herschel grammar school in my constituency is receiving an award later today, so I will not be able to remain for the whole debate.
I welcome the Bill, which is a sensible general approach through which we can win on a number of fronts. First, it will address poverty and how it is increased by fuel bills; secondly, it will contribute towards addressing issues of climate change; and thirdly, it will create employment in this credit crunch.
I wish to focus on the poverty aspect of the debate; that is what I know about and understand. I welcome any strategy to tackle poverty, and fuel is an important part of any poor household's budget. It is estimated that more than 5 million households are in fuel poverty, more than half of which are made up of pensioners. When the Government first introduced the winter fuel allowance—a hugely popular, important strategy—the £200 covered more than a third of the average fuel bill. Now it covers less than a fifth of most people's fuel bills. Therefore, although it still makes a real difference, it does not make as much as it did.
It is striking that, given the level of fuel bills at present, the average standing credit energy bill takes up almost a fifth of the income of a single pensioner receiving pension credit, despite the one-off increases to the winter fuel payment this year. Citizens Advice tells me that in 2008, 43 per cent. of its debt clients were in fuel poverty. I raised the issue in a debate on child poverty in Westminster Hall not long ago, because I am concerned about the fact that the poorest households pay a premium. I noticed that the Bill's promoter, Mr. Heath, rather pooh-poohed a proposal that I have made consistently on prepayment meters. He pointed out that some people on prepayment meters—I believe it is a minority—lived in yuppie flats in London. If I am summarising unfairly I am sure he will intervene.
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