More than half of Britons (55%) think an organized campaign not to pay energy bills is justified if prices soar as expected this winter, according to a new poll.
And almost half (44%) fear there will be riots if consumers no longer get help with bills expected to top £3,500 from October and £4,000 in the spring.
Pollster Savanta’s findings came as former chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged ‘hundreds of pounds more’ to the most vulnerable households if he became prime minister, while his rival for the Tory leadership Liz Truss refused to commit to direct payments to those most in need.
The Tory leadership candidates – embroiled in an increasingly fierce battle to succeed Boris Johnson – have shown no sign of responding to calls from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the CBI to rally behind a immediate relief emergency program.
But Mr Johnson said he was ‘absolutely certain’ anyone who enters No 10 in September will announce more attendance. He told a reception in Downing Street: ‘I am absolutely confident that we will have the fiscal firepower and the breathing room to continue to take care of people as we have done throughout.
Consumer expert Martin Lewis has said the ‘zombie’ government needs to ‘wake up’ before September 5, when the new Prime Minister will be chosen by Conservative Party members.
The founder of Money Saving Expert warned that the amounts requested are “unaffordable for millions of people”, adding: “People’s livelihoods, mental well-being and in some cases very lives depend on it”.
Nearly 100,000 people have now signed a pledge with campaign group Don’t Pay UK to cancel levies on energy bills from October 1 if they are not reduced to an “affordable” level.
Today’s Savanta poll for The Independent found that 7% of consumers say they have refused to pay all of their bills in the past and 19% are considering doing so. Only 35% said an organized non-payment campaign would be unwarranted, with 10% saying they didn’t know.
Similar figures said they would be willing to join protests against energy companies, while 29% said they believed civil unrest would be justified as part of the push for change.
Some 44% said they thought riots were likely over the next few months as anger grew over the rising cost of gas and electricity. But only 26% thought it would be an effective way to get extra help.
In contrast, 50% thought a payment boycott would be effective, compared to 40% who thought it would not.
The author of the book Can’t pay, won’t pay – a story of Margaret Thatcher’s “community charge”, which sparked massive protests leading to her downfall in 1990 – said the issue could be a “fiscal probing moment” for the current government.
“Everyone cites the March 1990 riot and that was quite significant because it sent shockwaves through the entire establishment,” Simon Hannah said. The Independent. “But what really stopped the poll tax was that millions of people just didn’t pay it, or didn’t pay it completely.
“It’s a pretty similar social combustible mix, there’s a lot of people who are struggling with pretty low benefits or haven’t had a proper raise in over a decade, so I think there there’s potential – it’s just that it’s aimed at energy companies rather than the government directly, it has this different dynamic.
Energy is by far at the top of the list of concerns as Britons prepare financially for a tough winter. Some 53 percent said paying electricity bills was their biggest concern, followed by paying for food (15 percent), fuel (8 percent) and rising interest rates (7 percent). percent).
Despite Ms Truss’ focus on tax cuts rather than direct payments as a solution to the cost of living crisis, only 5% said excessive taxation was their biggest financial worry.
Some 65% of respondents – including 75% of those over 55 – said they had already started reducing their energy consumption in a bid to save money.
Almost half (48%) said they had to cut spending on other essentials, such as food and clothing, including 49% of those over 55. A further 22% said they plan to reduce their use of gas and electricity and 30% of other essentials in the coming months.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said there was clear evidence older people were walking away without fear of rising prices.
He pointed to figures released by the Office for National Statistics last week which suggested that 13million over 50s had already reduced their gas and electricity use.
He said The Independent that cases were emerging of retirees turning off their fridges to save money, sitting in the dark and eating sandwiches rather than hot meals to avoid using gas and electricity.
“Soaring energy bills will be a crushing hammer blow to the fragile finances of millions of older people,” Mr Ashworth said.
“Instead of promises of fantasy islands which will be paid for with even more cuts, we need action now from ministers, but instead this zombie government is only offering more hardship. “
Mr Lewis said the £4,266 estimate for the energy price cap in January, produced by analysts Cornwall Insight, was £1,400 higher than expected when Mr Sunak’s package was was first announced and amounted to 45% of the state pension.
The figure will come on top of the rise previously planned for October, which prompted Mr Sunak to offer a maximum of £1,200 in aid per household, and will leave “many people destitute”, Mr Lewis said.
And he warned that the tax cuts proposed by Ms Truss – including reversing the National Insurance hike, suspending green levies on energy bills and scrapping a planned hike in the corporation tax – will be nothing more than a ‘sticky plaster’ solution.
“Tax cuts won’t help the poorest, including many older and disabled people who have higher consumption,” Mr Lewis said. “Cutting the levy would be just a tiny adhesive bandage over a gaping wound.
Mr Sunak declined to specify how he would add to his previous assistance package, but said ‘yes’ when asked if he would provide hundreds of pounds more to the poorest households.
“I want to make sure the pensioners and low-income households that I care about most get the help they need,” the former chancellor told ITV News.
Speaking ahead of his latest clash with Ms Truss, he also warned his tax cut plans ‘will not help these people’.
In contrast, the foreign secretary – who said last week that she would not deploy ‘donations’ in response to the cost of living crisis – refused to commit direct payments to those most in need. .
“What I am clear on is that, from day one, I will reduce taxes,” she said.
“What’s important is that we grow the economy. We cannot grow the economy if we have the highest tax rates in 70 years in the country. And I am determined to change that.
“I am determined to challenge orthodoxy. And I’m determined to do things differently. But I’m not going to write the budget in advance.
Savanta surveyed 2,239 adults in the UK on August 6-7
More than half of Britons think non-payment of energy bills is ‘justified’