by Sarah Edgcumbe
Energy bills are set to rise by 80% from 1st October, taking the average household’s annual energy bill to £3,549. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) estimates that the average UK household’s income in 2023 will be £2,054 per month, making the cost of energy equivalent to around two months’ salary. Meanwhile, the poorest among us have been forced onto pre-paid meters which enable energy companies to charge even more for the same energy. Welcome to Tory Britain.
Energy hikes of the extent we are seeing cannot be blamed solely on the war in Ukraine. These extreme prices have very little to do with Putin and much more to do with opportunistic corporate greed. Chris Jarvis recently reported in Left Foot Forward that BP tripled its profits during the second quarter of 2022, to a staggering £7 billion, while Shell recorded profits of £10 billion. Centrica, the owner of British gas, recorded profits of £1.34 billion during the first 6 months of 2022. E.ON posted profits of over £3 billion during the same period. The notably non-nationalised National Grid posted profits of £3.4 billion for the 2021/22 financial year.
Millions of people living in Britain must face the deep anxiety of choosing between heating their home or feeding their families this winter. But not everyone is so hard up – the Chief Executive of the National Grid, John Pettigrew, has received a pay rise of over £1 million, taking his total pay packet up to £6.5 million. This is nearly double the average pay for a FTSE 100 Chief Executive – for the head of a service provider which was nationalised until 1990. A £6.5 million pay packet is completely unjustifiable in any circumstances, but even more so whilst 22% of the UK population are living in poverty. In a damning report released in January, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 14.5 million people in Britain are living in poverty. Of these, 4.3 million are children, meaning that 1 in 3 children are now living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, 2.1 million pensioners are also living in poverty. All in the country with the world’s fifth largest GDP.
Privatisation only benefits the elite – those smug pricks in the top 1% who live behind big iron gates and don’t give a shit about their fellow citizens. Last year, Ben Tippet wrote that a net wealth tax on the top 1% wealthiest households in the UK could raise £70-130 billion per year. Rather than worry that higher taxation will scare the wealthy away, we should be yelling at them to fuck off and never darken our doorstep again. They are simultaneously the cause, symptom, and emblem of the complete absence of social justice which currently blights the UK. We are trapped in their vicious, exploitative, capitalist wheel.
It is within this context of political disregard for the common person and governmental disdain for the social contract that the Don’t Pay UK campaign has emerged. Its objective is to unite residents of the UK in mass non-payment of energy bills until those bills are reduced to a reasonable rate. At the time of writing, over 130,600 people have signed the pledge to strike on bill payment from 1st October. The goal is to secure one million pledges for direct-debit cancellation and non-payment, after which, if the energy companies insist on charging astronomical prices, we will simply refuse to pay. For many this is a scary concept – understandably so. The threat of bailiffs and potential loss of home is terrifying, but those threats become largely empty if enough of us participate.
There is safety in numbers. The history of strikes, boycotts and non-payments has demonstrated that when sufficient numbers of little people unite, the bully backs down. Take the mass non-payment of the poll tax as an example. 18 million people refused to pay Thatcher’s tax, which in true Conservative style had a massively disproportionate negative impact on ordinary households. The outcome of the campaign of mass non-payment saw the eventual repeal of the poll tax and the end of Thatcher’s reign of terror as Prime Minister. If British residents could pull this off against Thatcher in the eighties, we can pull this off against Johnson, Sunak, Truss, and their gluttonous, useless peers in 2022.
Poverty is political. Mass non-payment should not be viewed as an embarrassing subversion, but rather as a forthright political stance. We must stand united and refuse to be cowed by threats of debt and bailiffs. There will be no social shaming for us. It is the CEOs and Chief Executives of energy companies who should fear such shame. Mass non-payment will reduce their salaries considerably, as energy costs will be driven down through necessity. They will be forced into a period of self-reflection in which, if they have the ability to see past their egos, they will find themselves wanting.
Mass direct action works. Strikes and boycotts won equal pay for men and women (in theory at least) and eight hour working days. It brought Thatcher to her knees and consigned the poll tax to the annals of British political history. Apartheid in South Africa was dismantled via economic boycott (among other tactics), as was segregation on U.S buses. Mass non-payment of illicit taxes is an act of resistance routinely deployed by the Palestinians against Israel. But nowhere in history will you find examples of autocratic, nepotistic elites suddenly deciding to share their wealth, or to introduce policies based on egalitarianism. Social justice has never been a gift. It is always a hard-won right.
The Don’t Pay UK campaign is wholly reliant on ordinary people uniting against the 1% and the energy companies that represent them. It is non-partisan, non-hierarchical, and forward-thinking. It begins with the seemingly obvious premise that nobody should be cold or hungry this winter – particularly when energy companies have boasted record profits. You can make your pledge and find further campaign details on the Don’t Pay UK website, alongside resources, articles and encouragement. Those of us on pre-paid meters cannot participate in non-payment, but that does not prevent us from offering support and spreading the word. Looking ahead, we should strive for nationalisation. A country which allows millions to slog through the winter in unheated homes haunted by poverty, whilst the Chief Executive of the National Grid takes home £6.5 million, is fundamentally corrupt and needs to be completely deconstructed. One million pledges would be a big step on that road.
Featured image from dontpay.uk
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