Pledges by Tory hopefuls to help OAPs are just a drop in the ocean, campaigners say
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Various suggestions by the two Tory leadership hopefuls – to cut VAT on energy bills, scrap the green levy or reduce income tax – were slammed by senior citizens’ group Silver Voices, which says the pledges aren’t even “scratching the surface”. Director Dennis Reed said there seemed to be “little sense of urgency” in tackling the impending energy bill crisis by the pair and any help may come too late for those forced to make a choice between eating and heating.
He warned: “We are potentially talking about thousands of lives at risk.”
Instead he called for pensioners to be given a basic weekly income of at least £200 and the reintroduction of the triple pension lock.
Former Chancellor Mr Sunak has pledged “hundreds of pounds more” in energy bill support, saying it would be his “moral responsibility” to offer more help with bills if selected as Prime Minister, in particular to pensioners and those on benefits.
Foreign Secretary MsTruss has said she would “do everything I can to support working families” if she makes it to Number 10, while emphasising her preference for tax cuts instead of “handouts”.
However, energy consultancy Auxilione said last week that Ofgem could be forced to set the cap for April at a figure above £5,000 a year for the average household on a default tariff. It also predicted bills would soar beyond £4,000 in January and that an average household will spend £571 on energy in the month of January alone.
But Mr Reed said these amounts were impossible to find for the roughly four million pensioners who rely on £142 a week basic state pension or a little private pension as their main income.
“There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of older people who are being left up the stream without a paddle.They are desperate,” he said.
“It’s a completely impossible situation and the Government needs to recognise this is a real crisis.
“The Government has got to recognise we are not talking about people doing away with luxuries because those went a long time ago.”
Mr Reed said already many people do not have cash for emergencies.
“We are talking about people not having enough to live on, which is a pretty pitiable state for the UK in 2022.
“So lots more needs to be done and we are arguing that instead of so-called handouts, as Liz Truss calls them, we need to improve the state pension.
“At the moment the Government and energy companies are actually only tinkering around the edge of the crisis because the amounts being talked about, for example removing the green levy and VAT on energy, all those sorts of things are only going to amount to a couple of hundred pounds a year.
“That’s not even scratching the surface of the problem.”
He added: “We think the basic income of vulnerable households is the thing that needs to be addressed, which means looking at universal credit, pension credits and improving the basic state pension.”
Mr Reed said: “Income tax cuts won’t affect the majority of pensioner households anyway.
“It will mean some nice extra cash in the pockets of those who are still working and those who are reasonably well off but it won’t mean anything for older people.
“Everybody in the UK who has contributed to our tax and national insurance system should have the right to enough money to actually survive on – and that’s all we are asking for.”
Mr Reed said the Tory leadership contest had the feeling of “fiddling while Rome burnt” as the new PM will only be announced on September 5, just a month before the October energy cap comes into force.
“Truss and Sunak are knocking lumps off each other in terms of whether there should be tax cuts or not.
“Boris Johnson has been hauled back reluctantly from his partial retirement to do something.
“But everybody is saying we can’t do anything until September 5.”
Mr Reed added: “That is not very reassuring for those millions who are wondering where their next cost is going to come from as soon as autumn kicks in. All these things take time to implement if you need legislation. If there’s going to be changes to benefits that takes months for the Department for Work and Pensions to organise.
“So there appears to be little sense of urgency at the moment and nothing like the urgent action and decisions that took place during the pandemic, when the Government suddenly moved into action and took decisions on how people and businesses should be supported.
“I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say we are potentially talking about thousands of lives at risk.
“Many older people will be tempted to cut down on food and certainly switch off the heating in the winter because they won’t be able to afford the bills.
“There are already 25,000 or so excess deaths each winter caused by hypothermia and so on, and that is going to multiply massively with the current energy crisis.”
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