Fuel poverty will end only when we bring our energy supply back under democratic control.
Fuel poverty will end only when we bring our energy supply back under democratic control
While politicians are pointing their guns at Russia as the big threat to our energy security, the UK energy system has been hijacked by a cartel of energy companies.
The ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers are holding the UK hostage with threats of blackouts while reaping billions of pounds in profits and leaving millions unable to afford energy.
If we want to ensure a sustainable energy production and tackle fuel poverty, we must hand our energy supply back to democratic control.
The sad state of our energy system became abundantly clear last year when Labour proposed a price freeze on energy. The Big Six responded by threatening that blackouts would hit the country if anything were done to loosen their tight grip of on UK energy.
Nevertheless, after a year without such government intervention in the energy market and with skyrocketing profits in the sector, we are edging closer and closer to blackouts.
A quick look at the last decade of corporate controlled energy leaves little doubt that the solution to fixing the energy system is claiming back control of energy rather than letting corporate energy run free.
In the 10 years from 2002-2012, energy consumption by people in the UK fell by 17 per cent, but energy bills still went up by more than 50 per cent. This growth is reflected in a leap in Big Six profits, from £8 per customer in 2009 to an estimated £102 this year.
Government regulator Ofgem has expressed fears that savings from falling wholesale energy prices will be eaten up by Big Six profits rather than being passed on to consumers. In fact, Big Six profit margins have already gone up by a third this year.
It is high time politicians face up to the fact that the real threat to our energy security is corporate greed that rips people off with unaffordable fuel bills and threatens to blackout our energy system.
Thousands of people in the UK are already facing de facto blackouts as they are unable to afford fuel bills. That is the true cost of letting our energy be controlled by profit-hungry corporations.
Along with ever-increasing profits for big energy corporations, privatisation of the sector has brought a continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels and skyrocketing fuel poverty. In the winter of 2012-2013, 10,000 people died in the UK because they could not afford to heat their homes.
That is roughly equivalent to the population of Epping.
With fuel poverty on the rise, this winter is likely to bring even more deaths, even more people with deteriorating health due to cold and damp housing and even more parents that have to make the hard choice between eating and keeping their children warm.
Some of these tragic deaths get media coverage; for example the case of David Clapson, who died after he got his benefits sanctioned and could no longer afford to top up his electricity meter to keep his insulin chilled. But most cases remain anonymous numbers in faceless statistics.
The people dying from fuel poverty are not just statistics; they are our friends, our families and people from our communities dying of very preventable causes.
In essence, we are facing a choice between profits for the Big Six, and the lives of tens of thousands of people. That should not be a difficult choice to make.
On 28 November the National Institute of Statistics will reveal the number of people who died from cold homes last winter. We cannot let the death of people stay hidden and we cannot let this atrocity continue.
Therefore Fuel Poverty Action will – along with pensioners, disabled people, students and other people facing fuel poverty – be commemorating the deaths from fuel poverty and demanding the right to affordable, clean energy under democratic control.
A warm home should be a right, not a privilege for the few. Affordable energy that doesn’t destroy the environment or the climate should be on the top of the political agenda agenda, not corporate profits. Last month Fuel Poverty Action launched the Energy Bill of Rights to demand a shift to green, affordable energy under democratic control.
We need an energy system that works for people, not for profit. We are not going to get that while a few powerful corporations are controlling our energy system.
It is time to take back power and create an energy system independent from profit-hungry corporations and independent from dirty fossil fuels.
Join the protest in London on 28 November to call for democratically controlled energy that will put an end to fuel poverty.
Morten Thaysen is digital communications assistant at the World Development Movement, and an activist with Fuel Poverty ActionLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.