The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has said it “could be a very difficult winter”, with families facing rising energy bills, as he sought to distance himself from the added burden of the cut to universal credit.
Kwarteng also confirmed the government was considering state-backed loans to energy companies hit by soaring gas prices.
“Those are some of the ideas that are being discussed because it costs a company to absorb up to hundreds of thousands of customers from another company that has failed. That costs money and there may well be a provision for some sort of loan, and that’s been discussed,” he told Sky News.
Kwarteng said he was committed to protecting British people, when confronted over whether the government would be forcing people to chose between heating and eating in the face of mounting fuel costs caused by the gas crisis.
But he said removing the increase in universal credit was “a matter for the chancellor and the work and pensions secretary”, adding that he was in conversations with them about the pressures.
“We face a global energy spike in terms of prices,” Kwarteng told BBC Breakfast. “But I’ve said that there are mechanisms in place now to protect consumers. I’ve been very clear that the energy price cap is staying, even though some energy companies I read today are asking for it to be removed.
“I’ve been very clear that that’s staying, so we’re protecting customers there. We’ve got the warm home discount, we’ve got winter fuel payments, which are again focused on the most vulnerable customers. So, we’re completely focused on helping vulnerable customers through this winter – particularly with regard to energy prices.”
Pushed on the issue of universal credit, he said: “It’s a difficult situation, it could be a very difficult winter. That’s why, as energy minister, I’m very focused on helping people that are fuel poor. Universal credit, you will know, is an issue for the chancellor and the work and pensions secretary. I’m speaking to them a great deal about it.”
Earlier on Sky, Kwarteng hinted at a bailout for CF Industries, the UK’s biggest supplier of CO2. He said: “We’re definitely looking at trying to secure carbon dioxide supply. I’ve spoken to the CEO of the business, Tony Will. He flew over on Sunday. We spoke very candidly about the situation.
“He said the problem he had was that the natural gas price is much higher than the ammonia which he sells. So essentially what happened last week was that the plant downed tools. And I said of course we’ve got to manufacture this CO2. And that’s what we’re talking about this week. It’s pretty imminent.
“I hope we have a very clear plan to get CO2 production going again. I’m very confident and hopeful that we can sort it out by the end of the week.”