Our current profit-driven fossil-fuelled energy system is a killer. Climate change is leading to untold suffering, devastation and death across the world. Closer to home, this energy system is harming people too - the most drafty housing stock in Europe, combined with unaffordable energy prices, leaves millions of people in the UK shivering throughout the winter.
Along with being linked to detrimental impacts on mental health, there is a longstanding body of evidence to show that living in a cold, damp, drafty home leads to devastating effects on physical health, such as causing and worsening cardiovascular and respiratory disease, killing thousands of pensioners and other more vulnerable people every winter. The figures announced this November are expected to the highest in fifteen years- but these deaths are preventable.
A drafty home is a home that requires more energy to heat, so The Big Six energy companies, who control over 90% of the market in the UK, have a huge vested interest in keeping them drafty and keeping energy bills high. In December 2013 British Gas lobbied hard for a £50 per household reduction in the ‘green levies’ which paid for free home insulation for the most fuel-poor households and supported renewable energy. This ‘reduction’ meant that they put their prices up by £83 rather than the £123 rise they had planned to implement in January 2014. The profits of their parent company Centrica stood at £1.58bn in 2013.
Fuel Poverty Action fights for an energy system that could be very different. FPA is a grassroots London-based campaign and support organisation that has been fighting for an energy system built on the premise of meeting people’s needs - insulating millions of homes for free, investing in renewable energy and breaking our addiction to fossil fuels. This will result in lower energy prices, warmer homes and reduced carbon emissions. The positive impact that such an energy system would have on our health is clear.
FPA also supports people struggling with their bills in the here and now through advice and advocacy on energy debt.
Fuel poverty is also a ‘bridge’ issue- between climate change, energy injustice and austerity. For many people, climate change comes a long way down the list of daily worries - worries about feeding the children, keeping the debt collector from the door, fighting sanctions from the job centre. We can’t expect people to automatically have any kind of emotional connection to the concept of climate change when it feels so remote compared to thing such as austerity policies, which are so brutally impacting the everyday. People know that the energy companies are not acting in their interests because they have to pay bills which are impoverishing. However, starting from this point makes it a lot easier to engage with people on issues of energy injustice.
Over the last few years FPA has made important gains. We started out by building a diverse coalition of groups who now work and campaign together- from ESOL students and those campaigning for asylum rights and local energy co-ops, to housing and pensioner groups. It’s not often that protests are lead by pensioners, but ours are, and with that we are able to push back against the media narrative that pensioners are simply passive victims of fuel poverty and instead show they are some of the most active and serious campaigners on the issue. We have been successful in achieving widespread media attention. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn has pushed the issue of energy renationalisation up the political agenda in the last month, we have spent years challenging the current energy system and suggesting publicly owned energy in dozens of mainstream media appearances on TV and in national newspapers, keeping the debates on energy ownership alive. We have had big successes supporting individuals in energy debt and have delivered training so that people are empowered to resolve their own situation with their energy provider.
If you are interested in getting involved with Fuel Poverty Action there are a few areas we need support with, such as research (there are dozens of reports on energy democracy to fuel poverty), helping us to promote and distribute our ‘In trouble with your energy company? Know Your Rights’ cards and guides to community groups, becoming a ‘Know Your Rights’ trainer, getting involved in organising the action against deaths from fuel poverty at the end of November, translating our Know Your Rights resources and much more!
If you are interested, please get in touch.