Wera Hobhouse – 2022 Speech on the Cost of Living Crisis

The speech made by Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.

It was interesting to listen to what the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) had to say about green community energy funds, but a great deal is missing from this year’s Queen’s Speech. There is nothing about making misogyny a hate crime or tackling violence against women and girls, nothing about making housing more affordable and, once again, the climate emergency was not mentioned even once. Thousands are struggling because of the cost of living crisis. Now is the time for the Government to be bold on the future of energy, where it comes from and what it will cost.

One of my constituents told me, “I do not heat my home properly, and I stay in bed to keep warm.” I welcome the upcoming energy security Bill, but will it say, in no uncertain terms, that the future must be renewable energy and not fossil fuels? Will it set an end date for the UK to stop all fossil fuel extraction and leave gas and oil in the ground? Where is the windfall tax on the super-profits of oil and gas giants that the Liberal Democrats are calling for? Where is the retrofitting programme to save energy and ease the burden of rising bills? Why are developers still able to build homes that will need expensive retrofitting in a few years’ time because the Government have failed to introduce legislation to build net-zero homes now?

Unless we see a decisive legislative programme now, households will struggle with the cost of living crisis far into the future. In Bath and North-East Somerset, the average household energy bill has risen to a staggering £1,360, and research suggests that the Government’s short-sighted decision to scrap the zero carbon homes policy has added nearly £400 a year to people’s energy bills. Insulating our homes is not just about getting to net zero; it will protect the British people from volatile energy prices and rising bills. The sooner the Government get on with a meaningful and resourced plan to improve the energy efficiency of our homes, the better.

Access to health causes increasing anxiety to my constituents. Bath and North East Somerset has been named as one of the UK’s 20 “dental deserts”; we have only 44 dentists per 100,000 people. For many of my constituents, NHS dental treatment remains a distant prospect. One constituent told me that she was afraid to eat in case she broke one of her temporary fillings—anything more permanent would cost private fees. We will face an exodus of dentists from the NHS if the Government do not act and reform the dentists’ contract.

What about ambulance waiting times? People in the south-west are waiting longer for ambulances than people anywhere else in England, with waiting times regularly exceeding two hours. This crisis is driven by the crisis in social care. The Royal United Hospital, my local one, has at least 100 beds filled with people who are medically fit to be discharged but have no one to look after them at home. It is essentially a workforce crisis in social care. Unless the Government understand how to make social care a valued and well-paid career, the crisis will continue into the future and get worse.

Finally, where is the promised employment Bill? Ministers have been promising to enhance redundancy protections for pregnant women and new mothers since December 2019, as a direct response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s landmark investigation into pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. This Government have wasted six years talking about pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work, and have failed to do anything to tackle it. The Conservatives have been running the country since 2015. In that time, we have become poorer, more divided, more unequal and less able to face the big challenges of the future.