On Tuesday, British Gas announced they would be raising electricity prices by 12.5 per cent from 15th September, adding £76 on average to the annual standard dual fuel bill. The move will hit over three million customers in the UK.
The announcement comes at a time when the wholesale price of electricity is falling and inflation is almost 10 per cent below the price rise. To the raised eyebrows of consumer experts, British Gas has cited government policy and increasing network costs as factors in the hike.
Centrica, British Gas’s parent company, posted profits of £816m in the first half of 2017 despite having lost thousands of customers. Meanwhile, chief executive Iain Conn received a fat-cat pay rise of £1m last year.
The energy giant is just the latest of the Big Six energy companies to hike prices in recent months, with NPower increasing their bills most sharply at 15 per cent in March. There are now fears of a fresh round of price hikes from rival suppliers in the winter.
All of this points to a broken energy system under the Tories. What makes matters worse is the fact that they seemed to recognise the problems themselves during the general election campaign – yet now they dither and delay, failing to act decisively.
Labour’s shadow energy minister Alan Whitehead has said “at the very least, the Conservatives should institute the energy price cap which Theresa May promised during the campaign”, highlighting how the government has failed to get a grip on the broken energy market despite their pledges.
At a time when wages are stagnating, services are being cut and ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet, that massive companies are making obscene profits at the expense of the ripped-off British public is simply unacceptable. Even more unacceptable is the sight of a weak government with the wrong priorities, walking by on the other side and doing nothing to help the people.
In 2015, the Tories scoffed at Ed Miliband’s suggestion that the government should intervene in the energy market to bring down costs. Just two years later and this government of chameleons adopted Miliband’s interventionist language at the 2017 general election, speaking of unfairness in the system and promising to cap energy prices.
However, talk is cheap with the Tories. They are simply unable to keep their promises to the British people. First they u-turned, watering down their proposals, and now they fail to act with any decisiveness at all. Quite clearly, in 2017 the gulf between the Labour party’s ambitions on energy and Tory neglect is stark.
The energy regulator Ofgem is looking at measures such as boosting competition and creating a price cap for two million of the most vulnerable customers, but that means many of the British Gas customers on poor value tariffs alone would still be hit. The UK needs and deserves bolder thinking on energy.
At the general election, the Labour party put forward a radical, transformative plan to tackle the excesses of bloated energy companies and create a new system for the many, not the few.
Labour will invest in new publicly owned energy provision that is genuinely affordable and democratically accountable to the people. Only with a Labour government will the British people be free from the scourge of arbitrary price hikes from energy giants such as British Gas and NPower.
Given the Tories are unable to negotiate a better deal for British families with the energy companies, this latest energy debacle also begs the question: how and why can we expect them to negotiate a good deal for the British people with the twenty-seven members of European Union and the EU commission?
On energy as much as Europe, the Tories lack unity and vision while Labour looks more and more like a government in waiting, ready to confront the country’s major challenges.
But, while the attacks seemed to be terrifyingly random, they overwhelmingly targeted delivery drivers in an attempt to steal their mopeds. Although the use of acid is a particularly horrifying development, this fits a pattern of petty criminals using gratuitous violence against some of the capital’s most vulnerable workers.
For some time now, gangs have been attacking delivery drivers with almost impunity, often leaving them deprived of their means to make a living and terrified of working at night, if not worse. In response, many of these drivers have felt compelled to set up their own networks through which they can broadcast in the event of an emergency.
This is simply not good enough. No-one in this country should have to go to work fearing for their safety. These workers are at the forefront of technological developments that are set to transform the economy and drive growth. This is inevitably changing how we work, but everyone still deserves the guarantees we would expect from any job, particularly a safe and secure working environment.
The government must therefore do more to make the streets of London safer. A clampdown on the sale of acids would be a good start, with particular restrictions necessary on purchases by under-18s.
This should be followed by the legislation proposed by Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, and supported by Sadiq Khan, which would make carrying acid an offence similar to that of carrying a knife – essentially closing a loophole that criminals are using to avoid arrest.
But action on acid alone is not enough. The government’s response to the surge in knife crime in the capital was to toughen jail sentences, but to continue to cut back on police. This strategy, like the rest of the Conservative’s austerity program, has failed with damaging consequences. The last 12 months to March saw the largest rise in crime in England and Wales in more than a decade, with a 20 per cent spike in knife crime alone.
It is clearer than ever that we cannot make our cities safer just by locking people up for longer. This is why Diane Abbott is right to call for “a new approach” to tackling crime after the recent spate of acid attacks. A truly tough response requires investment in our police; giving them the resources they need to proactively tackle these issues. Prosecuting offenders after the event simply leaves it too late.
We must also ask ourselves how, as a society, we have reached a point where some of our young people are willing to inflict such pain on others in the pursuit of a few hundred pounds’ worth of stolen goods. Consecutive conservative governments have now presided over an unravelling at the edges of our social fabric. Without measures to restore pride and prosperity to our local communities then violence and criminality will continue to thrive.
The plight of our city’s delivery drivers has exposed issues that go right to the heart of the challenges facing this country. Radical steps are needed to ensure the drivers’ safety alongside that of everyone else living and working in London. Violent crime is a complex issue with few simple solutions. But good policing is built on strong communities. It is urgent that we invest in both.
Matthews Taylor’s report into employment practices was published as Theresa May seeks to relaunch her premiership but it will have done little to satisfy workers or employers.
While ambitious in its scope, the Taylor report focuses in particular on the issue of growing labour market flexibility and the effect this has had on pay and conditions. The proliferation of the so-called ‘gig economy’ means that people’s patterns of work are changing as new technology drives innovation. But legislation has been slow to reflect these changes, often leaving both businesses and their staff in a legal grey area.
At the heart of this is confusion over what constitutes an employee, a worker and a self-employed contractor. Unfortunately, the Taylor report has failed to provide clear recommendations for distinguishing these categories.
Instead, the review opted for a new definition of worker to include ‘dependent contractor’. These are said to be self-employed workers, whose conditions are significantly enough controlled by their employer and should be given greater benefits and rights, while not being considered a formal employee of the business.
For employers, the failure to offer a clarified legal distinction makes it even harder for them to ensure they are complying with the law and treating those they employ fairly. For small businesses in particular, negotiating employment law is already expensive and time consuming, and complicating the categorisation further risks adding to this burden.
For employees, the lack or clarification allows unscrupulous employers to continue to exploit loopholes. While flexible working undoubtedly benefits some, too often it has come at the cost of insecure work and low pay. The concept of ‘dependent contractor’ should be welcomed in so far as it aims to ensure some benefits for some of the most vulnerable parts of the workforce, but it does not go far enough.
The fact of the matter is that everyone would benefit from a simplified system under which all employees are given the same rights, no matter their relationship to their employer. This would cut red tape for employers, while ensuring that all employees are treated equally.
Chris Bryce, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), said that “any changes to employment status should bring clarity and not add to the confusion surrounding how government treats the way people choose to work.”
Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, called the Taylor review’s findings “a disappointing missed opportunity” that allowed the system of insecure work to continue. And emphasised that “even good employers will be forced to adopt these practices in order to remain competitive”.
These comments were echoed by Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, who argued that the Taylor report lacked “the serious programme the country urgently needs to ensure that once again work pays in this country”.
Ultimately, for all of its ambition, the Taylor report fails to tackle the fundamental question facing the economy: how can we ensure that we are at the forefront of creating the well paid and innovative jobs of the future? If we are to meet this challenge, the government must take the lead in investing in infrastructure, and working to ensure the development of a highly skilled work force. Only than the tension between flexibility and security be truly overcome.