A defining political issue across much of the western world—and certainly in the United Kingdom—is the rising cost of energy. The energy crisis, precipitated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, will massively inflate bills for UK homes and businesses in the months ahead. The British energy regulator, Ofgem, announced an 80% increase in the energy price cap in late August, taking the average annual gas and electricity bill from a current £1,971 to £3,549.
The latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that a majority of Britons are both very aware of and deeply concerned about rising energy bills. 78% of respondents have heard or read a significant amount about the rising costs of energy, while 69% say rising energy bills have mattered to them a significant amount.
When asked the extent to which they are concerned about their energy bills, 49% say they are very concerned, 29% are fairly concerned, and only 7% are not at all concerned. While concern is widespread across age cohorts, worry is highest among those of working age, with majorities of respondents aged 25-34, 35-44, and 45-54 ‘very’ concerned about their ability to afford their forthcoming bills.
The rise in energy prices has forced policymakers, analysts, and the general public to reexamine the United Kingdom’s energy strategy. Already, this reassessment has led to debates about the value of nuclear power, with former Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Keir Starmer recently clashing over which party was most responsible for failing to build new plants.
In November 2019, the UK government announced it was banning fracking “until further evidence is provided that it can be carried out safely here.” On 8 September, as part of the Government’s overall package of announcements on the energy crisis, this moratorium was dropped, with producers now free to seek planning permission to drill “where there is local support.”
Our poll suggests this move has popular support, with 44% of respondents saying they would support the resumption of fracking if it reduces energy bills and only 21% in opposition. A majority of 2019 Conservative voters (56%) and a plurality of 2019 Labour voters (41%) say they would support this moratorium being lifted.
This support represents an uptick in support for fracking from May, when only 36% of voters supported the resumption of fracking, including just 37% of 2019 Conservative voters and 26% of 2019 Labour voters.
The various climate change levies the government currently imposes on energy bills is also part of this discussion. When asked if they would support the government removing those levies in order to reduce the overall cost of household energy bills, 50% say they would support the government doing so, compared to only 16% who say they would oppose this change.
Beyond removing green levies and re-introducing fracking, majorities say they would support both the construction of wind farms in their local area (71%) and increasing the number of permits for gas and oil exploration in the North Sea (51%).
Voters, however, are almost evenly split over whether they would support the idea of a nuclear power station being built in their locality. While 36% would support such a structure, 38% would oppose it. While our previous polling shows the UK public broadly in favour of nuclear power (when asked in March, 42% of voters supported the UK building more nuclear power stations, against 26% who opposed), many voters still baulk at the thought of having a nuclear power station in their locality.
In summary, then, the UK public is broadly in favour of the Government loosening restrictions on extractive energy practises if it means a reduction in their energy bills. With rising gas and electricity bills at the forefront of their minds, voters are willing to support the resumption of fracking, the construction of wind farms, and the expansion of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. There is still hesitancy over nuclear energy, however, with a narrow plurality opposed to the construction of new plants in their local area.