With the final party conference season before the General Election now over and as Parliament returns, Which? has today published A Government for all Consumers, setting out the policies we want the next government to introduce to hand more power to consumers.
Whoever holds the keys to Number 10 next May needs to deal with the concerns of ordinary voters who are most worried about the issues they face in their everyday lives. Our research tells us food, fuel and energy costs are the top three consumer concerns, ranking higher than worries about public spending cuts and future tax levels.
The next government must act to restore consumer trust in the essential services we all rely on. Only a third of people (34%) say they trust banks - for energy it is just over a fifth (22%). Similar low levels of trust can be found in food, with half of consumers (49%) changing their shopping habits after the horsemeat scandal, and in public services, where just a quarter of people (25%) trust social care providers to act in their best interests.
This is why we want those forming the next government to give priority to promoting more competition in financial services, energy, food and communications; to empowering consumers in public services; and to ensuring publicly funded institutions and the government itself work in the interests of all consumers.
Which? wants the next government to deliver better banking by making fees and charges fair and transparent, introducing a national savings strategy, and ensuring all retirement income products are value for money. We want more action to ensure our energy is affordable including simpler, more comparable pricing; and moves to restore our faith in the food we buy including a national strategy for the future of food production.
But it is not just private markets that should be addressed. We need more power for people in public services, with better complaints handling, more data sets publicly available to help people make better choices, and consumer protection strengthened in higher education.
To help bring this about, we are calling for a consumer minister in the Cabinet and a Consumer Empowerment Bill in the first Queen's Speech after the Election to help unleash consumer power and competition in both private and public markets.
And at a time when billions of pounds of investment is planned for the nation's ageing infrastructure, we also need a new independent body to ensure that regulators are improving the lives of consumers and keeping these costs - which mostly end up on consumers' bills - under control.
Putting the interests of consumers at the heart of policy making will enable the best businesses to flourish, help drive improvements in our public services, and support the economic recovery.
Today we are setting out the big issues that affect people's everyday lives. As we head towards the General Election, these are the issues that politicians of all parties should ignore at their peril.Suggest a correction