Jon Sopel and Richard Moss are here with the top political stories of the week.
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Here in the north: The rising cost of heating our homes. A warning
that fuel poverty could kill older people this winter.
And will changes to legal aid mean victims of medical negligence
Apology for the loss of subtitles for 1881 seconds
losing out? We ask North East MPs. Hello and a warm welcome to your
local part of the show. Coming up: This Carlisle family received
compensation after a medical mistake left their son with serious
disabilities. But will cuts to legal aid deprive others of the
chance to get similar help? But first, all of us are facing
higher fuel bills this winter and it's a particular problem in this
part of the world. Levels of fuel poverty are twice as high in the
North East than the South, with increasing numbers facing hardship
as they try to keep their homes warm. The Government has called on
energy companies to do far more to help customers switch suppliers and
insulate their homes, but is that enough? In a moment, I'll be
talking to two North East MPs who have campaigned on the issue. First,
Mark Denten reports. In a community centre, a group of
pensioners playing a game with a difference. Welcome to the
wonderful world of energy efficiency bingo. You have won a
slow cooker. The differences is that we give an energy efficiency
to BAFTA each number is called. We show people how to be more energy
efficient in the home. Which they are so unusual game is a sign of
the Times. The bingo players are finding it hard to pay their bills.
Energy firms are not exactly popular. I am absolutely disgusted
about it. All the profits they are making. They are still put in the
prices up. They're making enormous profits. Surely they can pass
something on to the consumer rather than penalising them, especially
the older people. The energy charity organising the event says
the government is not doing enough to tackle rising fooled -- fuel
bills. It 21 % increase, you're talking about an extra 60,000
households being forced into fuel poverty. The government is
committed to eradicate fuel poverty in the UK by 2016. That is not
going to happen. While many of our bingo playing pensioners' bills
have gone up by 20 %, spare a thought for this family. The only
feel they can use his loyal and their bills have run up by 50 %.
They will spend at least �1,000 on oil this winter. But it could be
more. You don't know how much is going to be when you ring up. You
could get another cold snap and you might be running low on oil and you
have no alternative but to buy some more at a high price. It is
difficult to budget over the winter. It is going to get era as the
months get colder. It might go up 10 % in a month. Here is the firm
that supplied his will. They say energy prices are keeping bills
high but the government is not doing enough to help. The rate on
heating oil is currently 5% and that could be taken off and that
would be a 5% saving two of the domestic user. The are the key cost
that every company has his haulage. That is road -- road fuel duty.
That currently has very high, in excess of 60p a litre, with extra
increases planned for January. If that was reduced, that could be
passed on to the customer as well. But here we have got more oil Phil
Holmes but the energy bills are falling. Energy companies are
paying of the majority of the costs to Linslade these houses and why
are they doing that? Because of the government is telling them to. This
external installation works cast costs and the energy firms must pay
the larger share of the cast. Across Northumberland, we have
carried out a million pounds worth of installation improvements.
Energy companies have funded more than �700,000 of that. In just five
years, the government wants to lend fuel poverty for everyone.
Well, with me now is Guy Opperman, the Conservative MP for Hexham.
Last year he pressed for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the
rocketing cost of domestic heating oil. Also with me Dave Anderson,
the Labour MP for Blaydon, who's calling for more government action
to tackle fuel poverty. The Office of Fair Trading said in response to
this inquiry about competition in the oil industry that it was
working pretty well. Do you accept that? What they said is what there
was -- is that there was some competition. In Northumberland,
where we have a particular problem, we have 17 different companies
providing heating oil and 12 of which are controlled by one company.
There's some limited competition but I would urge everybody not to
buy from one company. Prices went up by last -- last winter because
demand went up. There is some degree of delivery costs and
commodity pricing but if you go out and try and buy diesel or fail
today, you will find that these particular companies are 5p per
litre more expensive than the local independents. The bottom line is,
the Office of Fair Trading has decided not to do anything about it.
They did a market report and they are reinvestigating the matter and
taking it further. Energy bills have risen significantly but what
can be done about it? You have to go back to how we got here. You
have got a cartel there of six major companies controlling
everything. The very first meeting of the select committee three years
ago, I asked a question of the companies, when are going to put
your prices up at how much by and none of them would answer because
they are all frightened of saying when and how much, our competitors
will know and that will make us uncompetitive. He could people
fighting against each other. -- you have. You never hear the government
talking about other oil-producing nations. We threw away our own
resources in this country, particularly the coal industry.
There is plenty of rhetoric from of the Prime Minister on this but
bills are still going up. The green deal has been introduced and the
Energy Act was passed a month ago. The Green deal will change things.
The government is making the energy companies pay for the insulation.
They're giving some contribution out of their profits but the green
deal is going to work for a system at the present stage. If we want to
insulate our home and bear in mind there are 10 million homes that are
not insulated, so they are an awful lot out there. We have to pay money
for it under the old system. Under the new system, you get it for free.
That is the green deal. If you really wanted to help older people,
you would not have cut the levels of when to fill allows this winter?
They will be paid very good summers and it's exactly the same as the
last government was doing. It is not the case that their records to
the winter fuel allowance. Above 60 years of age, you get �200. �2.1
billion is being invested in winter fuel. There is a lot of work being
done. The Green dealers not free. The plan is that you will pay by
the amount that you will lose. about winter fuel allowance?
government was saying it was not going to replace the temporary
measure we had last year. If we were in power, it would be better.
But let's concentrate on the people who do. The people who do read it.
If you had universal payments, everybody who is entitled will get
it. Some people desperately need this don't get it.
Big changes are being planned for Legal Aid. The system, which gives
people on low incomes free legal advice and representation in court,
costs the taxpayer �2 billion a year. Ministers want to save �350
million of that by targeting Legal Aid on what they believe are the
most deserving cases. They also hope more disputes can be resolved
outside court. But could that approach leave some vulnerable
people without access to justice? Luke Walton has been to meet a
Cumbrian family who were helped by the current system.
Medical mistakes made during this boy's birth left him with serious
disabilities. It left his mother fighting for compensation. Years
later came a large payout from the NHS that allows them to get the
support he needs. That battle for justice relied on legal aid. It ran
into thousands of pounds for a medical report which is something
we could not afford to do. The legal aid was vital. It means Simon
can live independently and have a property and at his support.
Integer, clinical negligence cases are unlikely to qualify for legal
aid. The government says families can use no-win no-fee deals as
alternative but some liars fear of those on low income will be priced
out. No-win no-fee cases won't be the answer because many of them
won't be taken on because they will be considered too great a risk.
Where does that lead -- leave the claimants were the most profound
disabilities? Without the access to justice to obtained the awards of
damages that allow them to at least have some degree of independence.
It is a concern that stretches much wider. Every year, staff here help
thousands of people with their financial and personal problems.
But much of this work is funded through legal aid and is now under
threat. Managers share-save restrictions to relay it would
reduce the bureau's income by a quarter and mean job losses. Among
the areas facing cuts are benefit, immigration and housing cases and
there will be tougher means testing. The people like me who don't know
where to come, there would be nothing for them. We have over 2000
clients who use me -- delayed. The vast majority was love problems but
they would be able to come here to get the specialist advice they need.
Supporters of reform insist that even after the changes, legal-aid
will be protected for criminal law and more serious civil cases
including care proceedings and domestic violence. They say the
current cost is unaffordable. legal-aid system in the country is
going out of control. The government has a responsibility to
ensure that the money spent is spent wisely. It's also unhealthy
for the country as a whole. Far too often, people's first move is not
cost-effective. This is one of the alternatives, at this mediation
service in Newcastle, divorcing couples are steered towards
agreement on issues like child custody and division of assets.
Integer, this approach will get extra money from the government.
One of the major advantages is that mediation is quicker and cheaper
than using the court process. It is designed to work in a more peaceful
way. With a legal aid reform did come into force next autumn,
agreement on the wider question of access to justice still looks some
way off. How happy do you feel about the families like that being
denied legal aid? I don't think there will be denied legal aid.
There is a �6 million fund to cover extreme cases and of the 100 cases
up and down the country, only two were on legal aid. Almost all were
on conditional fee agreements. The funding criteria in relation to her
legal aid in such cases is almost more rigorous because it's
taxpayers' money that is being assessed and it's on a no-win no-
fee. Labour let this legal aid bill get out of control. It is sensible
to push people towards mediation and keep people out of court.
possible, that is what should happen. The Law Society says this
will mean six and and 60,000 people a year will lose access to a legal
avenue that was there in the past. They still will have alternative
means of pursuing a claim. They won't be able to afford to take out
solicitors. Some of these people will not take it up. The trade
union movement will only support cases that have a 50 -- 50-50
chance of winning. The fundamental point is that if you are well off,
access to justice remains as good as ever but if you're poor
vulnerable it becomes lot worse. That is simply not the case.
Disability rights, domestic violence, these are protected. It
is clearly best to go forward with mediation. It is a much better way
forward. What about a father who can't get access to his children,
shouldn't he have legal-aid? He may have the ability to do so. There is
still legal aid for certain cases in such circumstances. That is when
mediation has broken down. Justice Secretary is being
challenged by the Justice select committee and they gave different F
-- different answers. We really don't know. People will not be able
to challenge public bodies who loved and things wrong to them. --
who'll have. You can challenge because there is a thing called the
protective costs order. You suggest that almost nobody will be affected
by this. We are in the biggest shake-up of welfare payments for
decades. People will be affected in the way they find the litigation in
the sense that the taxpayer will no longer be funding certain bits of
it. But there will be alternative ways forward. Was going to take on
the cases of people claiming benefits? -- who is. There are
abilities take these things forward. The Law Society is saying that
660,000 people won't have access to legal aid. You're on Justice
Secretary has said that you would have made similar cast -- cuts. We
have to balance the books. Poor people will suffer. Those who need
the help the most. If we keep going though this Bill will go up and up.
This has gone on and people say it's a compensation culture. But
you have to look after people at home and at work. That would stop
the compensation culture. And that's about it from us. Both
my guests are among a clutch of the north's MPs giving evidence to an
inquiry which starts tomorrow in Newcastle looking at the new
constituency boundaries in the North East. It continues later in
the week with further hearings at Durham Tees Valley Airport. I'll be