Following news that fuel poverty could be claiming around 7,800 lives in Britain each winter, the big six energy firms have reported substantial pre-tax profits.
Analysis carried out by Consumer Focus has shown that Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, made £2.1 billion last year. French-owned EDF, meanwhile, accrued £1.7 billion from its activities in the UK. Scottish Power reported an even £1 billion, while npower made £526 million.
Director of Policy and External Affairs at Consumer Focus, Adam Scorer, said: “These results show the energy industry is virtually recession-proof. Consumers will be baffled about how such healthy profits are being made despite a big dip in energy use over the mild winter”.
Consumers perhaps ought not to be baffled. Although the relatively mild winter did allow many households to turn down their thermostats for a time, the cost of electricity and gascentral heating was increased by each of the big six suppliers before the arrival of the colder weather. Only after temperatures rose did energy firms promise to pass on a proportion of the savings made by cheaper wholesale fuel prices, which had fallen at various points last year.
The problem of fuel poverty makes the position of energy firms, which as private companies are duty-bound to generate substantial profits, seem all the more pernicious. According to the University of Ulster’s Professor Christine Liddell, a little under 8,000 people in the UK die as a result of fuel poverty every year – far more than the 2,700 cited by Professor John Hills in a government -commissioned report last year. The problem might even be much worse than Professor Liddell fears, as the Office for National Statistics recorded 25,700 excess winter deaths in England and Wales alone in 2010.
Speaking last month, director of Transform UK, Ed Matthew, said: “These figures are horrifying. You can’t call yourself a developed country and allow this many people to die from living in cold homes”.
As the big six energy firms continue to generate substantial profits from customers who cannot all afford to keep their homes warm in winter, questions will continue to be asked about whether privatised energy is a suitable fit for the British people.