by Clare Welton, Fuel Poverty Action.
This Friday, November 28th, pensioners will lead a march from Charing Cross to Energy UK – the Big Six energy company’s lobby body – under the banner ‘No More Deaths from Fuel Poverty: Energy Rights Now!’
Why? Because this is the day that the Office of National Statistics will also be releasing the numbers of ‘Excess Winter Deaths’ in Winter 2013/2014 – and it’s estimated that at least 30% of these deaths caused by the impacts of living in a cold home. Shockingly, this means that in the Winter of 2012/2013 there were more than 10,000 deaths in the UK from cold homes (with 31,100 Excess Winter Deaths recorded in total), whilst in the same year the Big Six energy companies – British Gas, E.On, EDF Energy, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – made £3.7billion in pure profit.
It is clear that a bold response is required to such an enormous and devastating ongoing crisis, which is why Fuel Poverty Action, the Greater London Pensioners’ Association, and Reclaim the Power, are inviting everyone angry about fuel poverty, deaths from cold homes, Big Six polluting and profiteering, lack of government action on badly needed home insulation, home break-ins by energy companies, benefit cuts, and more, to come and join the march and be a part of a ‘powerful and creative’ action.
Energy UK – the lobby and trade body for the energy companies – will be the target of the protest, although the government will also be symbolically attacked on this date for their enormous failure to tackle the UK’s cold home crisis. The body is currently headed up by former Tory MP Angela Knight who also presided over the British Bankers’ Association during the first years of the economic crisis, and she has even ‘joked’ that her next career move would be in “arms exports”. The ease with which energy executives can talk about the frivolity of their career moves sits in stark contrast to the millions of homes doing without heating and lighting every winter because they are unable to afford even the basics – and points to the need to name and shame the people and companies profiteering from the fuel poverty crisis.
Deaths from cold homes sit within a greater picture around energy which indicates the current set up is failing, and in a big way. More than 4 million homes are in debt to their energy supplier, 1 in 4 families are making choices between ‘heating and eating,’ whilst the government’s response to the energy crisis is to cut free home insulation programmes, throw money behind unpopular and risky fracking – which even they admit won’t bring down the bills – whilst committing to only the most small changes to how the Big Six operate. And not forgetting, our energy policy is still heavily focused on fossil fuels that create environmental and health catastrophes in the UK and all over the world. In London an estimated 1 in 12 of all deaths in London are thought to be linked to air pollution, whilst hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide each year are caused by climate change.
It’s evident that our energy system is failing all of us; Fuel Poverty Action think now is the time that we need to not only be pointing to what is wrong, but to demand an energy future that is led by, and works for us. Our Energy Bill of Rights, launched in a crammed full House of Commons Room last month, asserts our right to access affordable, sustainable and democratic energy as well as decent housing that doesn’t waste heat through a Bill containing eight basic points – from ‘We all have the right to affordable energy to meet our basic needs’, to ‘We all have energy that is owned by us and run in our interests’. It also asserts communities’ rights to resist fracking and the right for households to not have a prepayment meter forced on them.
This is why Friday’s protest is ending with an ‘Energy Rights teach-in’ – where we will learn, collectively, how to negotiate if you’re in debt to your energy supplier, or steps that you can take if you can’t afford your bill – combining action with the practical solidarity, support and ‘radical self help’ work we do with people who are ‘in trouble’ with their energy supplier. We will also read out Fuel Poverty Action’s ‘Energy Bill of Rights’ – thus creating a space where we are not only resisting the brutality of the current energy system but also demanding and creating a fairer, sustainable and democratic energy future.
We ask people who are able to attend to join the protest on Friday. For those unable to do so there are ways to offer remote support- by lobbying your MP to sign the Early Day Motion 395 in support of the Energy Bill of Rights, by utilising the free resources we have made- including the ‘Know Your Rights’ cards and ‘In trouble with your energy company? A mini-guide to your rights’ available on our website, by forming a local Fuel Poverty Action group or by getting in touch with Fuel Poverty Action and asking questions.
What is clear that the government and the Big Six are not going to give us the energy future (and that means the health, social, political future too) that we deserve- affordable, sustainable and democratic energy without a critical mass and a powerful grassroots movement. We think that demanding ‘No More Deaths from Fuel Poverty: Energy Rights Now!’ is a good place to start.