Labour has written to Boris Johnson and the two Tory leadership contenders to demand parliament returns early in order to tackle the deepening cost of living “emergency”.
The call for MPs to return two weeks early on 22 August comes ahead of Ofgem’s announcement on the new energy price cap on 26 August, which Labour has called a “crucial deadline” for action.
Sir Keir Starmer has unveiled a “fully costed” plan to freeze the price cap at the current level of £1,971 throughout the winter, with gas and electricity bills forecast to hit around £3,600 in October.
Johnson – currently enjoying a holiday in Greece – has said it is up to his successor to take action, and both Truss and Sunak have spurned the idea of freezing bills, despite warnings that 13 million people will be pushed into debt.
In the letter to Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, Labour’s shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said it was time for MPs to debate the “urgent choice” over the looming hike in energy bills.
“Across Britain, people are having to make unthinkable choices about how to pay their bills, causing endless worry for households and businesses,” the Labour frontbencher wrote.
“That is why I am writing to you today to urge you to bring parliament back early on 22 August so that we can freeze the energy price cap now ahead of winter,” the senior Labour figure stated, adding: “With businesses and households on the brink, we cannot wait to act.”
Ofgem will reveal the precise rise in the energy price cap at the end of next week, coming after the latest official figures showed inflation rose to a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent.
Debbonaire said Ofgem’s announcement would “send households into a further spiral of worry, pushing them to cut back even further” and creating “another shock for our economy”.
She wrote: “Families deserve a government that is on their side and is ready to take the action needed now to meet the scale of this national emergency. I urge you to adopt Labour’s plan and take action to freeze the price cap now.”
The government can ask Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to recall parliament early if there are events deemed to be of major national importance.
But the two Tory candidates and ministers in the so-called “zombie” government appear fixed on the current political timetable, with parliament set to return on 5 September – the same day the winner of the leadership contest is announced.
Truss or Sunak have promised an emergency budget in September. The foreign secretary, the strong favourite in the Tory race after the latest poll of party members gave her a huge lead, has said she will prioritise tax cuts – dismissing a price cap freeze as a “sticking plaster”.
Sunak has called Labour’s plan for a price freeze a “blunt instrument” that would not target those who need the most support. He also said Truss would be guilty of “moral failure” if she does not commit to more help for the nation’s poorest.
However, campaigners backed Labour’s call for an early return to parliament. Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition – a group of 60 civil society organisations – said a recall could help speed up the “groundwork” on additional government support.
“A week of political focus on fuel poverty now could bring in the extra financial help needed and also lay the groundwork to tackle the problem in the long term,” he told The Independent.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called last week for the recall of parliament, an emergency budget and a price cap freeze – suggesting it could be paid for by expanding the windfall tax on the oil and gas giants.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, made a similar call earlier this month, urging Johnson to recall parliament to deal with the cost of living crisis.
New research by academics at the University of York found that two-thirds of all UK households – an estimated 45 million Britons – will be pushed into fuel poverty by January if no further action is taken on energy bills.
The new study found that 86 per cent of pensioner couples and 90 per cent of single-parent households with two or more children will fall into fuel poverty – defined as paying more than 10 per cent of income on energy.