Energy Bills: Welby Slams 'Severe' Price Rises
The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a stinging attack on Britain's energy firms, warning the latest round of price hikes seem to be "inexplicable".
Justin Welby insisted the so-called Big Six energy companies had an obligation to behave morally rather than to simply maximise profit.
His intervention, published in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, came after British Gas followed in the footsteps of SSE by announcing a 9.2% increase in prices.
The head of the Church of England, himself a former oil executive, said he understood the anger the rises had generated.
"The impact on people, particularly on low incomes, is going to be really severe in this, and the companies have to justify fully what they are doing," Mr Welby said.
"I do understand when people feel that this is inexplicable, and I can understand people being angry about it, because having spent years on a low income as a clergyman I know what it is like when your household budget is blown apart by a significant extra fuel bill and your anxiety levels become very high. That is the reality of it."
The Archbishop urged firms to be "conscious of their social obligations", saying they had to "behave with generosity and not merely to maximise opportunity".
"They have control because they sell something everyone has to buy. We have no choice about buying it. With that amount of power comes huge responsibility to serve society," he said.
"It is not like some other sectors of business where people can walk away from you if they don't want to buy your product and you are entitled to seek to maximise your profit.
"The social licence to operate of the energy companies is something they have to take very, very seriously indeed."
But the Church Of England owns a significant number of shares in energy companies.
Sky's Chief Political Correspondent Jon Craig said: "Justin Welby has now joined in this increasingly politically charged debate about energy prices - the only embarrassment really for the Church of England really is that it owns more than £7m of shares in Centrica and about £6m of shares in SSE.
Craig added: "The remarks have been welcomed already by the Labour Party - but they will infuriate government ministers, the Prime Minister and the Energy Secretary."
An ongoing bitter political spat over energy has seen Labour leader Ed Miliband attempt to seize the initiative by pledging a 20-month-long price freeze.
Prime Minister David Cameron has dismissed the idea as a "con", and encouraged consumers to switch suppliers to keep bills down.
But polls have suggested that Labour's promise is popular with voters, putting pressure on the coalition to respond.