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Economic Justice

Fuel poverty and corporate greed

In this cross-post from Birmingham Settlement, Chief Executive Martin Holcome gives his personal take on rising energy costs and how this had led the creation of the recently launched Fuel For Food campaign.

 

Like many others I’ve been watching the debate about energy company profits and price rises. I find myself disillusioned with the whole thing; I feel helpless and outside of the discussion; I don’t feel I have a voice and neither do the people I work with. Individuals are of little relevance or consequence – it’s about the wants of corporate finance, majority shareholding institutions concerned more with money than the needs of people. Those on the margins don’t matter, dividends do!

 

Whilst politicians consider whether levels of profit are too high or if it should be made easier to switch supplier, what I and my colleagues know, and can evidence, is that many people are suffering real hardship. One of the services we run at Birmingham Settlement is a debt advice service and the numbers of people coming to us for advice has spiralled this year. Yesterday we had 53 people through our door seeking financial help and advice – the largest number we’ve ever had in a single day.

 

I would like politicians and energy company CEOs to spend time with some of the people who through circumstance beyond their control cannot afford the fuel needed to heat their homes or cook their food. We work in partnership with others such as food banks to provide support where it is most needed and I’m afraid a response we are increasingly hearing from clients is ‘there’s no point, I can’t afford the fuel to cook the food’.

 

I was involved in a discussion a few days ago about whether the UK was the 5th, 6th or 7th largest economy in the world – it seemed to depend on which report you read; the discussion went on to whether it was right for people to be limited to three food parcels per family, irrelevant of circumstance. I was amazed that the idea of food banks now seems to be an acceptable concept, everyday language – is it really acceptable in 2013 that the second largest city in one of the biggest economies in the world has such a problem; that its own citizens cannot cook the contents of a food parcel because they have no fuel?

 

I am reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the most basic human life needs include food, drink, shelter, warmth – how on earth can we expect people to grow and prosper if they can’t cook a meal?

 

Winter is almost on us and for too many this means additional hardship as they will not be able to meet the costs of soaring fuel bills; they will no doubt face the consequences of not being able to contribute to the billions handed out in dividends to the privileged few.

 

At Birmingham Settlement we have suggested a practical measure that could really make a difference. We are asking the energy companies to give every household access to an hours’ supply a day irrespective of debt and personal circumstance. This means if prepayment meters have no credit fuel would still be available for one hour everyday – we suggest between 12 noon and 1 pm. Energy providers (electric and gas) have the technology to make this happen. The residential supply of water cannot be legally disconnected, where as fuel is increasingly disconnected; and to the poorest families in our society. This is wrong! Profit making energy companies need to show social responsibility – support society by putting more back, and now!

 

Birmingham Settlement has begun an e-petition to ask the Government to legislate for the basic human right for every household to be able to cook a hot meal each day under a Fuel for Food campaign – you can support us by signing the e-petition here.