Demanding a right to energy for all

Fuel Poverty Action outline their ‘Energy for All’ campaign, which demands a shift in energy distribution – granting everyone a basic band, free at the point of use.

Fuel Poverty Action protestors
Fuel Poverty Action

We are on the precipice of the gravest cost of living crisis in decades. Households already going cold and hungry in their millions have shamefully been urged to brace for the most acute fall in living standards on record. Wages are being outstripped by inflation, social security has once again been slashed. 

In April, fuel prices will spike by another £700, with the price cap increased by an unprecedented 54 per cent. This is set to force another two million households into the misery of fuel poverty, whilst intensifying the hardship of the already four million households who cannot afford to stay warm or pay their bills. Then, in the autumn, prices are likely to go up even further, to average around £3,000 per year. With an annual average of 10,000 people dying from fuel poverty even before these rises, the further strain of such a bill hike will be catastrophic. 

We must name this as a crisis of grotesque inequality, rather than some market fluctuation beyond our control. Shareholders of major fossil fuel companies extracted £200 billion over the last decade alone, whilst Shell reported record profits of £12 billion in the final quarter of last year, a 14-fold increase from the previous quarter. The rich and powerful who monopolise our energy system are enriching themselves yet further from this crisis, their profits syphoned from fuel poor households trapped in debt and rationing the heating on prepayment metres. 

A windfall tax on their super profits to cover surging costs and shield households at risk of fuel poverty is an important emergency solution, but we should push further. Fuel Poverty Action has launched a campaign for Energy for All (e4a), demanding not just remedial action but a wholesale shift in how energy is distributed and controlled. Energy is essential – to cook, to heat our homes, to safeguard the health of particularly elderly and disabled people – and everyone should be entitled to a basic band of energy, free at the point of use as a right, similar in principle to the provision of healthcare through our NHS. 

Support for this principle through our petition has been extraordinary – soaring over 200,000 signatures in just a few days. We have previously had interest from many movement bodies, parts of political parties, pensioners’ organisations and the EU. Caroline Lucas expressed interest in the proposal as far back as 2019. 

Solutions the Government has proposed are not in any way adequate to the scale of this crisis. The £150 council tax rebate will only benefit some certain households and could deprive local authorities further of funds after a barrage of budget cuts. The £200 'reduction' in energy bills hardly offsets a £700 increase, and will be a debt sentence recouped through higher bills in consecutive years. Many other proposals, like removing VAT from bills, end up increasing fossil fuel subsidies, disadvantaging renewables and energy efficiency, and perpetuating the problem. Removing VAT is also regressive, favouring wealthier households. If bills keep rising, this will at best delay calamity for many already indebted and struggling. The tactic here is to shift responsibility away from central Government and corporations and expect the public to once again foot the bill for a crisis not of our making. 

In France, bills will only be rising four per cent after intervention from the Government, where companies like EDF are nationalised and so can be subject to real oversight and price controls. Meanwhile, EDF customers in Britain face the stark injustice of an equivalent rise of 54 per cent. 

What goes unstated, and what we have to tackle, then, is the unchecked power and profits of fossil fuel companies. The poorest already pay disproportionately high amounts on prepayment metres, having lower energy usage on average than bigger houses but paying a much higher percentage of household income on energy, especially through standing charges. They also bear the brunt of cold, damp and leaky homes without decent insulation or energy efficiency measures. 

This crisis reflects much deeper injustices in our energy pricing system, with the richest let off the hook and the poor paying premium rates. We can redress this imbalance, redistributing the resources fuel companies have hoarded to provide energy security for all. Energy for All will reverse the present perverse system where those who use the least energy pay most per unit, while the profligate wealthy pay least.

Fuel Poverty Action is writing to Ofgem with interim demands as we work towards Energy for All: 

  • Stop financing the cost of failed suppliers from the standing charge on customers’ bills
  • Cap standing charges and then end them altogether
  • Stop charging prepayment customers more than people who pay bills by direct debit
  • No imposition of prepayment meters – these should be a voluntary option.   

We would welcome Green Party support for these demands and for Energy for All. 

The pandemic exposed not only the drastic inequalities in our society – the lack of sick pay, meagre benefits, job and housing insecurity – but also the social necessity of warm and healthy living conditions, with many unable to isolate safely to curtail transmission due to poor housing. 

It is a fundamental matter of public health, not to mention dignity, that we all have the energy we need to remain warm and safe in our homes, and that our communities have a say in how our energy system is run. We must transition fully away from the volatility of fossil fuels at the root of this price hike, rather than subsidise their riches and cut investment in renewable technologies. 

We must end deregulation and carving up of the sector, so that suppliers do not recklessly enter the market only to go bust at our expense because they are not subject to proper checks and balances. We must transform our system from an unaccountable racket holding our communities to ransom, instead running it in our interests rather than those of profiteers. 

This means universal access to energy for all.