This winter, we will face a gas and electricity bill crisis. Each of the 'Big Six' energy companies has put its prices up over the past few months. Come December and January, we will all start to pay. Many will fall into so-called 'fuel poverty': spending more than 10 per cent of their income on heating their homes. Many more will find that their pre-payment cards will run out before the end of the month, plunging their homes into cold and dark. Most will find that gas and electricity bills become a major burden, on top of increases for fuel and food.
The department for energy and climate change (DECC) seems unable to help. The energy secretary Chris Huhne suggests that the answer lies in consumers shopping around for a cheaper company. The problem is that the Big Six companies control 98 percent of the UK domestic market. They've raised their prices in line with one another. The companies' tariffs are complicated and confusing - you need a maths degree to work out what they mean. The people shivering under blankets don't need to be told by Chris Huhne to swap their supplier.
So what would a Labour government do?
Ed Miliband has announced that we will encourage 'energy pooling'. The Big Six must open up more than 20 percent of their electricity generation output (the amount Ofgem has recommended) to let more companies to enter the market. Labour wants to see more energy pooled to enable new players into the market, keeping prices fair and transparent and bills lower.
We want a standard tariff. A 'daily charge plus unit rate' model across all products with a daily standing charge plus an easily comparable unit rate (as with phone charges - a line rental charge and fixed cost for calls on top). This would mean everyone can work out exactly how much they're paying and easily compare different tariffs - making it easier to switch from ones that aren't good value.
We propose independent energy advisory body. Labour is looking at the potential for an independent group to advise on the most effective and affordable choices for our energy future. Similar to the Committee on Climate Change, it would provide transparency in decision-making, give long term certainty to investors and confidence to consumers that our low-carbon future is being delivered in the most fair and affordable way.
Energy prices will be a major political issue this winter. Millions will be concerned about the squeeze on their incomes. Ministers are sitting on their hands. Labour will stand up for the poor and cold this winter, and the next Labour government will transform the energy market in the interests of all consumers.