Nearly one third of households in the United Kingdom will face poverty this winter after paying energy bills that are set to soar again in January, campaigners say.
About 10.5 million households will be in fuel poverty for the first three months of next year, according to estimates from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition (EFPC) published on Tuesday — meaning that their income after paying for energy will fall below the poverty line.
The UK government defines poverty as household income of less than 60% of the UK median, which stood at £31,000 ($37,500) in 2021, according to official statistics.
The predictions are based on new estimates from research firm Cornwall Insight, also published Tuesday, which show that the average household energy bill is expected to hit £3,582 ($4,335) a year from October, and £4,266 ($5,163) from January — equating to about £355 ($430) a month.
January’s forecast represents a 116% increase in energy bills from current levels. As fuel prices surge, estimates are having trouble keeping pace. Just last week, Cornwall Insight predicted January’s prices would rise by 83% from current levels.
The research firm said it had revised its figures because of a jump in wholesale prices and a change in the way the UK regulator calculates its price cap. But there could be relief on the horizon: Cornwall Insight expects bills to start falling in the second half of 2023.
Fuel bills started rising last year as a global natural gas supply crunch pushed wholesale prices up to record levels. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February has only exacerbated the situation.
The average UK household bill has already risen 54% this year, exacerbating a cost-of-living crisis that has forced many Britons to choose between “heating and eating.”
In May, the government announced a £15 billion ($18 billion) package of support — including a £400 ($484) payment to 29 million households from October — to ease the burden of energy bills.
But Simon Francis, coordinator for the EFPC, said the latest price estimates meant the current level of government support amounted to a “drop in the ocean.”
Craig Lowrey, a principal consultant at Cornwall Insight, said in a Tuesday press release that if “£400 was not enough to make a dent in the impact of [the company’s] previous forecast, it most certainly is not enough now.”
Liz Truss, the UK’s foreign minister and current frontrunner to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister next month, has proposed cutting taxes to help people struggling with their bills, rather than direct help. Her rival, former finance minister Rishi Sunak, has said more support will be needed.
Meanwhile, the CBI — the country’s top business organization — has urged Johnson to bring the leadership candidates together to agree on a way to support households and businesses with their energy bills so that measures can be announced as soon as the October price cap is set on August 26. The new prime minister is not expected to be elected until September 5.