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Issue #1582      February 20, 2013

Fuelling resistance

BRITAIN: Last winter over 7,000 people died because they could not afford to keep warm enough. During the winter months, that works out at around 60 people dying every day. Over the past five years deaths from hypothermia have doubled – and it’s no coincidence that in this same period energy bills have gone up by a shocking 71 percent.

Combined Big Six energy company profits may have risen by billions but millions of people in this country cannot afford to turn the heating on.

The Big Six dominate our domestic fuel market. They have all ratcheted up prices by nearly 14 percent in the past 24 months. Each 1 percent plunges a further 40,000 people into fuel poverty.

Government cuts have seen the winter fuel allowance chopped by £50 for the under-80s and £100 for those over that age. Pensioners, the disabled, asylum-seekers, students, single mothers and those trapped in poverty pay or unemployment are choking on a lethal cocktail of cuts, depressed wages, poor housing, high rents and unaffordable energy.

A poll by YouGov calculates 47 percent of working-class and 22 percent of middle-class households would be considered fuel poor if housing and fuel costs were added together.

Stir into this mix the rising risks presented by climate change – flooding, volatile weather and surging food prices due to drought – and life at the sharpest end of capitalism in 2013 is getting harder and harder. Some people are literally not just failing to make ends meet, but not making it altogether.

The same class dynamics and corporate controls which secure privilege for the one percent are at play when it comes to the commodification of energy and decision-making on how we power our country and who gets to heat or eat.

That’s why Fuel Poverty Action is focused not just on exposing the corruption, market-rigging, lack of democracy and unsustainability of a corporate-run and marketised energy system, but on the alternatives.

Community-controlled energy, renewable localised energy co-ops, people supporting one another and standing up to red bills, bailiffs, unscrupulous landlords and exploitative bosses. Coming out of the Climate Camp mobilisations between 2005-10, Fuel Poverty Action began as a conversation between mainly middle-class white activists in a squatted field on the site of Heathrow’s proposed third runway in the summer of 2011.

But the group has since evolved into a diverse network of those hardest hit by government policy, including Disabled People Against Cuts, the Greater London Pensioners Association, Single Mothers Self-Defence and the All-African Women’s Group.

Our actions have focused on exposing the impact of fuel poverty on people’s health as well as targeting the companies that are profiting from our energy.

We don’t believe energy should be a commodity. We believe energy should be a common resource which everyone has a right to – not just those who can afford it.

Letting it be controlled by corporate monopolies and markets leads to people choosing between heating and eating, and a dash for gas which will be a marathon disaster for people and planet. Gas is touted by the Big Six as the low-carbon fuel of the future – no surprise there. The government’s keen on it too, which isn’t much of a surprise either given that Big Six staff are working on energy policy within the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

But in fact it is almost as polluting as coal and will plunge millions more into fuel poverty. Likewise, the new fracking goldrush where speculators can set up rigs almost anywhere and get rich quick from a gas-dominated market could mean earthquakes in Salford and risks for future generations.

Green energy would be cheaper and safer, despite industry lobbyists spreading disinformation to the contrary. Figures from Ofgem show that in 2011 the average energy bill across Britain and Northern Ireland rose by £150, with £100 of this due to the rising cost of gas.

The expert Committee on Climate Change calculates that from 2004-10 rising wholesale gas prices added £290 to bills, compared to £30 for investments in low-carbon generation.

The committee found it feasible for 65 percent of electricity to be generated by renewables by 2030 – others put it even higher. But the government won’t pick the green solution if left to its own devices. We need to speak out.

Last weekend Stop the Great Fuel Robbery rallies happened all over the country. In Nottingham, Edinburgh, Haringey and Hackney – and outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change in central London – people struggling with bills shared their stories, protested at the destructive Big Six collusion with the government and come up with alternatives for real energy democracy. Power to the People! Join us!

fuelpovertyaction.org.uk

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