This is a guest post by Fuel Poverty Action
As UK Uncut are quite rightly highlighting this weekend, the government’s cuts are making the cold bite even harder this winter. Welfare cuts and reductions to the winter fuel allowance in the context of £25bn in corporate tax avoidance each year demonstrate the coalition’s commitment to private profit above peoples’ right to a warm home. These cuts will undoubtedly worsen the situation of the 1 in 4 British households that suffer from fuel poverty, made up largely of the most vulnerable people including the elderly, babies, students and the disabled.
But fuel poverty is not just a cuts issue, nor is the government’s role in creating fuel poverty limited solely to its austerity measures. At the moment, six energy companies – EDF, EON, Centrica (British Gas), Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern and NPower – currently have a monopoly over how the UK’s energy is sourced, produced and priced. Because the price of fossil fuels has risen and these companies refuse to get off the fossil fuel bandwagon, each of the ‘big six’ has hiked prices (by around 15 per cent every year for the past few years) in order to ensure their own bottom-line. This has meant record profits for them and cold homes for us. The government is refusing to get tough on the energy companies, which is hardly surprising given that thousands of pounds are paid out every year by the big six to MPs and several big six shareholders and employees sit in the House of Lords.
As well as this, the government is failing to take effective action to rectify the shameful state of insulation and housing in this country. Its ‘green deal’, which will see private companies retrofitting homes, is set to freeze out low-income households due to the high interest rates on instalments that will be added to their energy bills. The green deal still allows the energy companies to cash in whilst ordinary people freeze.
Millions of people in the UK are suffering – and almost three thousand people each year are dying – as a direct result of fuel poverty. Ultimately, this is because of an energy system that is locked into fossil fuel dependence despite rising prices, and which functions with the primary purpose of securing private profit. Our market-based energy system and its addiction to fossil fuels is also costing hundreds of thousands of lives via climate change. Whilst people in the UK are being left to freeze, communities in the global south are being subjected to natural disasters and enforced migration as many small island countries are literally disappearing underwater because of the damage done by the profit-driven pursuit of fossil fuels to our climate.
So, although we must challenge the cuts agenda that will leave more people than ever with a choice between heating and eating this winter, we must also challenge the market-based fossil fuel driven energy system that is at the root of both fuel poverty and the climate crisis. Further, we have to demand alternatives that work to meet our needs for both warm homes and a safe climate. This means decent quality housing and proper insulation as a universally secured right. This means getting off fossil fuels and embracing real renewables. And this means ending the energy companies’ monopoly and moving towards a democratically controlled energy system that functions to meet our needs, not for corporate greed.
In order to provide a platform for people to make these demands, to challenge government inaction and the power of the big six and to start discussing alternative visions for a just and sustainable energy system, Fuel Poverty Action are holding a national weekend of ‘Winter Warm-ups’ on Friday 27th January to Monday 30th January. On this weekend, we are calling for shivering people across the country to come out of their cold homes and warm up together inside the toasty buildings that represent the corporate and political forces driving fuel poverty. This could include anywhere from big six offices and cultural and sporting venues sponsored by the energy companies, to government buildings, council offices and housing associations. Wherever we are, we’ll be sure to be heating things up.
Find us here, follow us on Twitter @FuelPovAction to find out about where people will be warming-up near you, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.
Fuel Poverty Action are a campaign group of the newly formed Climate Justice Collective. This is a new climate action group that has formed out of the recently disbanded Climate Camp network. Fuel Poverty Action aim to support those in fuel poverty, to expose the collusion of the big six and the government in leaving people in the cold, to make the links between the causes and solutions of fuel poverty and the climate crisis, and to promote alternative energy systems to fossil fuel driven corporate monopoly.