Fuel Poverty Action ‘die-in’ at EDF against fuel poverty deaths
Guest post by James Angel, used to be campaigns and policy intern
As climate justice activists, when we think about our global economy’s addiction to fossil fuels, we quite rightly focus on the 300,000 in the global south that are killed by climate change every year. But our addiction to fossil fuels is also killing thousands of people in the UK through fuel poverty. Between 2010 and 2011, there were 25,700 ‘excess winter deaths’ in the UK, this statistic demarcating the extra people that died in the winter in comparison to other seasons. Of these deaths we can be sure that, at the very least, 10 per cent were directly attributable to the fact that people cannot afford to heat their homes.
On Tuesday 22 November, to mark these deaths, fifty protesters took part in Fuel Poverty Action’s ‘die-in’ protest at the head office of EDF, one of the ‘big six’ energy companies whose profiteering is driving up fuel prices and, consequently, leaving people to die in the cold. The big six - EDF, EON, Centrica (British Gas), Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern and NPower - currently have a monopoly over how the UK’s energy is sourced, produced and priced. Because the price of fossil fuels has risen and these companies refuse to get off the fossil fuel bandwagon, each of the big six has hiked prices (by around 15 per cent every year for the past few years) in order to ensure their own bottom-line. This has meant record five-year high profits for them and cold homes for us.
Before ‘dying’ at EDF, the protest began with a ‘funeral procession’ from parliament, complete with coffin, blankets, hot water bottles and frozen blue faces. The aim here was to highlight the link between the big six and the government: the government is refusing to get tough on the energy companies, which is hardly surprising given that thousands of pounds are paid out every year by the big six to MPs and several big six shareholders and employees sit in the House of Lords. Nor is the government taking effective action to rectify the shameful state of insulation and housing in this country. Its ‘green deal’, which will see private companies retrofitting homes, is set to freeze out low-income households due to the high interest rates on instalments that will be added to their energy bills. The coalition’s austerity regime has also seen welfare services and the Winter Fuel Allowance cut, meaning that the cold will bite even harder this winter.
Fuel poverty is a problem that is getting worse and worse - a quarter of UK households are now fuel poor according to the government’s account, which classes a household as being in fuel poverty if it spends over 10 per cent of its income on heating. These millions of people are suffering because of an energy system that is locked into fossil fuel dependence, and which functions with the primary purpose of securing private profit. This energy system, of course, is also driving the climate crisis. We do not have to choose between a safe climate and warm homes - the solutions are the same. We need decent quality housing and proper insulation as a universally secured right. We have to get off fossil fuels and embrace real renewables. And we must end the energy companies’ monopoly and, instead, move towards a democratically controlled energy system that functions to meet our needs, not for corporate greed.
Fuel Poverty Action are a campaign group of the newly formed Climate Justice Collective. This is a new climate action group that has formed out of the recently disbanded Climate Camp network. We aim to support those in fuel poverty, to expose the collusion of the big six and the government in leaving people in the cold, to make the links between the causes and solutions of fuel poverty and the climate crisis, and to promote alternative energy systems to fossil fuel driven corporate monopoly. On the last weekend of January (Friday 27-Monday 30 January), Fuel Poverty Action are calling for shivering people across the country to come out of their cold homes and warm up together inside the toasty buildings that represent the corporate and political forces driving fuel poverty. This could include anywhere from big six offices and cultural and sporting venues sponsored by the energy companies, to government buildings, council offices and housing associations. Building on the momentum of months of uprisings, resistance and the global ‘Occupy’ movement, the Fuel Poverty Action Weekend of Winter Warm-Ups will be a chance to challenge government inaction and corporate profiteering, and to collectively discuss and demand alternatives.