Fuel poverty protestors gather in Manchester to shine light on thousands of lives cut short this winter due to uninhabitable homes

“The next government's energy policy should aim at ending fuel poverty, not managing it, and the money to do it is right there in energy company profits."

As the Chancellor delivered his Spring Budget on March 6, a coalition of movements gathered in Manchester, demanding a fundamental reform to the energy system.

Supporters of the National Pensioners Convention, Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, High Peak Green New Deal, Manchester Friends of the Earth, and Manchester People’s Assembly, met in the city centre.  They called for change for those struggling with high bills and energy debt, including a free, universal band of energy, and a properly resourced national retrofitting programme.

16 percent of adults in Britain – equating to 8.3m people – live in damp and cold homes, recent figures from the End Fuel Poverty Coalition show. The Coalition warns that such conditions are exposing people to severe health risks, with the impact disproportionately affecting disabled people, those with pre-existing health conditions, older people, young children, and people of colour. They point to the estimated 4,950 excess deaths in Britain caused by living in cold damp homes during the winter of 2022 and 23.

National Day of Action

The Manchester vigil was part of a National Day of Action, which saw demonstrations and vigils take place in 15 different cities and towns across the UK, demanding the government promises a complete overhaul of the energy sector, from generation to supply. The National Day of Action was in support of the Unite 4 Energy for All, a campaign by Unite to end fuel poverty.

In Manchester, there was an angry response to what the End Fuel Poverty Coalition described as a ‘another feeble budget.’

“The Chancellor failed to close the 91 percent loophole in windfall taxes, and failed to invest in the green jobs that would deliver cheaper home-grown energy for us all, and healthier homes,” said a spokesperson for the Coalition.   

Jan Shortt, National Pensioners Convention (NPC) General Secretary, said: “With a staggering 5.3 million now in debt to their providers due to years of rocketing costs, even a lower price cap on energy bills in April is unlikely to help them pay off what they owe. Worse still, those who have been forced onto prepayment energy meters (PPMs) will simply be cut off and left in the cold because they cannot afford to top them up.  This can only serve to endanger more lives.”

Stu Bretherton, Energy For All Campaign Coordinator at Fuel Poverty Action said he hopes Wednesday’s Statement will be the last Budget of a government that has “driven mass poverty, broken public services, illness and death.”

But Bretherton warned that none of the parties are “offering the bold changes that we desperately need so today we’re seeing trade unions, pensioners, climate activists and health workers Unite for Energy For All.”

“The next government’s energy policy should aim at ending fuel poverty, not managing it, and the money to do it is right there in energy company profits,” he said.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Stu at Fuel Poverty Action

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