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Announcing our consumer agenda for government

Whoever wins the keys to No. 10 needs to deliver positive change for UK consumers. Our consumer agenda for government sets out our priorities.

Ahead of December’s General Election, we today launched our consumer agenda for government.

It sets out the commitments that we want all political parties to make to deliver positive changes for people across the UK.

From buying products online from a global marketplace, switching energy provider on a smartphone, or making payments from a banking app, the digital revolution has delivered opportunities for wider choice, faster deliveries and enhanced personalisation.

Tackling the challenges

But it hasn’t all been good news. Fraudsters use advances in technology for sophisticated scams, unsafe products repeatedly make their way onto online marketplaces, and fake reviews take advantage of consumers’ trust in online reviews.

At the same time, the move to digital is leaving behind those who have poor mobile or broadband coverage and those who rely on cash. We also need to ensure that those who aren’t online can still get a fair deal with their day-to-day bills.

We know from research we did this summer that eight in 10 areas in the UK lack full 4G coverage from all four operators.

And our latest research – published today – has found more than 250 communities across the UK that have poor cashpoint provision or no cashpoints at all.

Parties need to commit to policies that tackle the challenges and risks posed by this transformed consumer landscape, whilst widening access to this new digital world, and not leaving behind those who aren’t ready or able to go fully online in all areas of life, such as banking and making payments.

What we want to see

We need the next government to set out an ambitious, joined-up strategy to deliver an improved digital infrastructure that guarantees a reliable online connection for everyone – whether they are at home, at work or on the move.

The next government must work with industry and regulators to guarantee access to cash for as long as it is needed. And we must ensure that those who bank online are fully protected from Authorised Push Payment (bank transfer) scams.

We have one of the strongest consumer rights frameworks in the world, but the enforcement systems that support it are broken.

That’s why we’re calling for a stronger Consumer and Competition Authority that can stand up and impose tough sanctions on businesses that are breaking the law, as well as an independent product safety regulator to tackle dangerous products.

There must also be greater responsibility on online platforms and marketplaces to prevent scams, fake reviews and the sale of unsafe products, and security needs to be built into the design of connected devices.

Working with Which?

The next government must also work with Which? to build a fair and transparent pensions system –  one that enables people to track their pensions, addresses the pensions gender gap, and helps ensure that retirement income products are value for money.

On the increasingly important topic of trade, our position is clear; future trade policy must be built on the foundation stones of world-leading consumer standards, consumer rights and enhanced choice.

Whilst a future national food strategy must maintain the UK’s high food standards. 

We’re really excited about our consumer agenda for government, because we believe that it embraces the best of the modern consumer world, but will also help everyone have a stake in it.

Read our full manifesto here.


Which area from our consumer agenda is your top concern?
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Gail Elsharief says:
11 December 2019

If the Tories Remain in government I am very concerned about the future of our NHS. It has been Tory policy for years to privatise it, and it’s happening, even though they deny it. To allow American healthcare providers to infiltrate our NHS will be the end of it.

We HAVE to keep our NHS safe. In order for this to happen it has to be publicly funded through taxation, publicly PROVIDED and free at the point of use.

We must not let the Tories privatise the NHS by stealth. We must reverse the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which enables privatisation.

I understand your concern, Gail, but I truly believe no government is going to privatise the NHS whether by stealth or by outright legislative intent as you have identified. The political consequences would be too damaging for any Party to contemplate.

But where does opening contracts to international competition come into the equation if we leave the EU and are no longer required to purchase within the single market? Should we deny ourselves American drugs or wound management formulations because of policy dogma? This is a very complex issue and I don’t believe the politicians have served us well in dealing with it almost entirely in sound-bites, except possibly, perhaps, by demonstrating through public approbation that the NHS is the most precious part of our national infrastructure and must be protected. I think the public focus on this has brought the Conservatives up with a jolt.

In practice it’s not so much the question of the products and materials required by the NHS that is at stake but the founding principles – of being free at the point of use with universal access irrespective of means – that many fear could be put at risk.

What I do think requires attention is that, despite the excellence of the NHS, and decades of health and safety legislation to improve working conditions, there are a lot of people who are in a poor state of health, possibly because they choose not to have treatment, or because they have a lifestyle that militates against a healthy condition, or because the system has not found a solution to their ailments. I think much more effort should be made to produce a much healthier society which would actually take a burden off the back of the health service.

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There has been far too much unsubstantiated scaremongering, largely for political reasons, about the NHS for example – well, in my opinion. I do not believe we would allow general “privatisation” to happen although I expect parts that are appropriate will still be contracted to specialist suppliers. Nor do I believe our drugs bill will be allowed to increase in cost just because of “Donald”. This topic is rather like the end-of-cash scare stories.

Electioneering seems to bring with it lies, speculation, contrived stories, damaging leaks, unaffordable promises, bribes……… I stop watching news, question time, listening to interviews when such childish games are played.

I hope my faith is not misplaced and that the speculation from some others does not come about.

Duncan – The NHS procurement organisation is one of the best in the world for obtaining essential supplies on the most favourable terms, largely because no other country can place such large contracts though a centrally specified and organised system.

Since they will depend on the terms of our leaving the EU and future tariffs we do not know what the drugs prices from mainland Europe suppliers will be but we would be free to source from any manufacturers anywhere that can provide the products the NHS specifies and requires. NHS contracts are so lucrative that competition will be intense but I think, overall, home supplies and European sources are likely to be more favourable – partly because security of supply and easily assured compliance are as important as price. Generally speaking, once the NHS has negotiated the best price for a product, other manufacturers are allowed to supply on the same terms for parts of the overall requirement.

There is another issue which I was to some extent alluding to in my previous comment: some drugs and formulations are still in patent and although there are sometimes alternatives it would not be in patients’ interests to avoid American products just because they are American.

I am confident that the NHS can stand up to any bullying on price from American drugs companies because for most products there are UK- or EU-manufactured equivalents. It has already been made clear from both sides of the Atlantic that a trade agreement with the USA cannot be conditional on exclusive access to NHS procurement.

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Gerry says:
20 December 2019

I suggest you watch the John Pilger programme shown on ITV a couple of days ago: conclusive proof that areas of the NHS are being privatised by stealth and that healthcare for profit does not put patients’ interests first.

Leigh Hicks says:
1 January 2020

agree with this

The UK owes the rest of the world £1.786 trillion at the calendar year end 2018, or 85.2% of GDP. It costs you and me £48 billion annually just to pay the interest on this debt.
You can have as many aspirations as you want but without a strong economy to pay for them, they will not ever be realised. Politicians should focus on generating wealth for all; there is a limit to what we can or should borrow.

I have never encountered anyone who understands macro economics or international macro economics. So putting things as you have is far too simplistic.

It’s not to be confused with the government deficit.

The deficit is the difference between the government’s income and government spending. It’s the amount the government has to borrow each year.

Debt is the total amount of money owed at one time, most of which is made up of gilts auctioned by the government. The owner of a gilt gets paid interest until the government pays the debt back.

Borrowing money to cover the deficit adds to the total stock of national debt.

When does it have to be paid back?

In one sense, it doesn’t. Government gilts are issued with a date when they have to be paid back, but at that point the government can just issue new gilts to pay for the old ones—as long as investors are happy to buy them.

What costs money is the interest payments the government has to make in the meantime. About 5% of the government budget goes towards paying interest on the national debt.

Who owns the debt?

Most UK government gilts are owned by British institutions, and some by UK households. They get the interest payments.

UK insurance companies and pension funds own almost a third: about 30%.

The Bank of England owns about a quarter.

Other UK financial institutions like banks own 17%, just over a sixth.

Another quarter of the government’s debts, about 27%, are owed to foreign institutions. That’s called the UK’s external debt, and the interest payments go outside the UK.
Debt-to-GDP ratios

It’s common to compare the value of a government’s debt with what’s called annual gross domestic product, or GDP. That’s the total value of goods and services made in the UK each year.

The government’s net debt was worth about 85% of GDP at the end of May 2018.

Looking back at the last century, 85% is a relatively low ratio, especially compared to the post-war periods.

But compared to the last two decades, it’s relatively high. The size of government debt increased greatly in proportion to GDP around the time of the last recession.

While the size of UK debt has continued to increase in the past few years, other factors have meant that it’s actually become cheaper for the UK government to borrow money. So size isn’t everything.

There’s a debate about what constitutes a sustainable level of debt for a developed country like the UK, and the economic significance of changes in the debt-to-GDP ratio.

Kevin says:
11 December 2019

Ian, thanks for that, a more interesting and informative view than we get [Trumpy alert] on ‘mainstream media’.

I suppose a comparative model we could look at would be a company: borrows money to increase production, fine as long as they can service the debt, or persuade people to buy shares. Nobody would suggest that a commercial entity should not borrow, but scrutinise the accounts, and check they’re selling their product

I have a fairly simple view on things – politicians who can present a consistent argument and don’t spout a load of party line waffle I’ll listen to whether I agree or not and hope to develop a better understanding. Not too many of these, sadly. As far as policies go, KISS, proper education, not the fantasy self-serving nonsense that has crept in with the commercialisation of some higher education institutions. Nursing and medicine funding should be tied to subsequent NHS employment to pay off the training, other degrees should be subsidised according to the national interest. Easier said than done, but look at the Scandinavian model, loans are not necessarily a bad funding model, the biggest scandal in the UK is the usurious interest rates on the loans. The other issue in the UK is a general view that increased house prices aren’t inflation; this has a pernicious effect on investment in the productive economy, and the boom/bust model does not support a proper training model for the plumbers, brickies, sparkies etc that we need.

The sterile political nonsense I’ve seen this year do not give me hope, whatever the result tomorrow.

And when highly trained economists all disagree, proving that none of them really understands macro economics, what hope for politicians? Very few politicians have any statistical or scientific background.

Norman Heslip says:
13 December 2019

The system for Jobs and Benefits are unfit for purpose in this day and age-isn’t there anyone who can organise a better system like helping claiments get a rise in payments say twice a year instead of giving them crums by that I mean giving only £2.50 of an increase once a year.

And make it be £50.00 every 6 months and not every 12 months thank you.

I am so aware of fuel poverty in the area I live – we are on a Scottish Island with only one power source available. the Highland and Island rates are higher than mainland and in addition despite being heavy users of Electricity – more than the average household with dual fuel – we receive no discounts. People can pay an average of £20 a day to keep their houses warm through out Winter – this needs to be addressed.
I have raised this with Which over several years but to my utter disappointment have met with a wall of silence.

I read that there have been record winter temperatures in the far north of Scotland. I forget who, but one of our correspondents used to remind us how Scotland was blessed with abundant hydro-electric power which enabled the power companies to maintain a broadly comparable tariff across the country even to the highlands and islands.

East Anglia has been very cold caused by a blanket of thick cloud preventing any air circulation and the rays of the sun from getting through; indoor temperatures have been very low for a long time so I sympathise with others experiencing prolonged cold weather. Time for the Scottish government to raise the winter fuel payment for pensioners perhaps.

Not all Scottish islands are connected to the national grid, see:-https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/plea-to-improve-grid-connections-to-scots-islands-1-3551210

Long ago, when I was involved with research on electrical power generation from sea waves, our financial modelling identified “small island communities” as ideal early adopters for wave energy. Even back then, we assumed that such communities could only generate their base load power from fuel-expensive diesel generators, as opposed to other sources with much lower marginal costs of generation.

Thank you for the link, Derek. It’s interesting that the report was five years ago and I wonder how much has happened since then.

I would have expected wind power and other renewable technology to offer an economical route to baseload power for off-grid remote communities on a per island/community basis without the need for interconnectors but that would probably be too inefficient. Some serious investment in physical infrastructure will be required in order to join places together.

Unfortunately, wind power on its own is probably not consistently reliable enough without some power storage system to provide sufficient reserve capacity but wave power could be a useful supplementary resource even during periods of low wind force.

I am concerned about the wage gap. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. The difference between the lowest paid worker and the highest paid is getting obscenely larger, this is on top of the gender difference. The notion that wealth cascades down is a myth. Comfortably off wealthy may take advantage of tax laws, money makes more money in addition to those who use off shore tax havens. Time for the government to sort out the large accountancy firms and only take advice from those that will pursue the consumer’s position.

It is indeed strange that attempts over the years to eliminate poverty and curb egregious riches, and close the gap between the richest and the poorest, have made little practical difference to their relative positions. Because of their international mobility the super-rich have access to dodges and mechanisms that defeat any government’s attempts to level the playing field as they can re-domicile themselves wherever it suits them. Previous attempts to super-tax the extra-wealthy have failed to make much headway, and direct hand-outs to the poor are a blunt instrument that again does not seem to work.

I suppose we need the ‘good rich’; they have a philanthropic outlook and are socially responsible members of society who do feed down some benefits to the remainder, but it is on their terms, might be discriminatory in its effects, and is an inefficient and unreliable method of redistribution.

While a certain amount of wealth is necessary to enable the country to be prosperous and to invest in successful enterprises, what I personally regard as obscene is the extraction of excessive profits from companies to fund personal indulgence rather than reinvestment. Excessive prices are also partly responsible for poverty and there is a direct connection between high prices and excess profits. We also have to be careful with our judgments in discussions like this because it is too easy for accusations of envy to be thrown at those who challenge the accumulation of wealth.

One can argue forever over absolute poverty and relative poverty, but there is no escaping the fact that poverty is a cancer in society and gives rise to many consequences that cost us all more in the long run. We can’t go back to the days of the workhouse, nor carry on indefinitely with a laissez faire approach which is not humane, but finding the sweet spot in between those extremes has eluded social reformers down the centuries.

very angry and sad that over 75s have lost their right to a free tv licence which they have enjoy for some years and dumped it into the lap of the bbc who have wasted nearly 40milionpounds on something that any future party would reverse at a general election because of the volume of votes involved i myself will never vote tory again after doing so for over 5o years

Jill Williams says:
6 October 2021

Cash transactions must remain especially in rural and out-of-town situations. When living almost on hand-to-mouth from one pension day to the next it is essential to be confident that when paying for an item that it is paid for. Having a bank card payment “declined” is very worrying and for small payments cash gives you confidence that they are paid for if cash is used.