Yesterday’s report by the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG) that 300,000 households will be plunged into fuel poverty by Christmas is not just a scandal but an absolute crime against workers and the poor.
Fuel poverty is officially defined by the government as when a household spends more than 10% of its income on heating – in practice this means when a family have to choose between heating their homes or buying food and clothes.
The 300,000 households are set to join the six million already being forced to make these choices, a figure that the FPAG estimates will rise to nine million in three years the way prices in gas and oil are being driven up.
Energy prices have risen by 7% this year, an average increase of £200.
On top of these sharp increases in these costs is the sharp increase in the amounts the government and the privatised energy companies are demanding for up-grades to the infrastructure.
The energy regulator, Ofgem, has announced that it will permit companies running the electricity and gas grids to add an extra £12 a year to bills for the next eight years in order to pay for upgrades to the system and for maintenance.
With annual fuel bills paid for by direct debit running at the moment at £1,247 a year these year-on-year increases will mean untold misery for millions, as workers and their families struggle to pay these exorbitant rises while pay and benefits are cut to the bone.
The figures are shocking. it is estimated that in London alone fuel poverty accounts for well over 3,710 excess winter deaths.
Derek Lickorish, FPAG chairman, said: ‘A toxic cocktail of rising wholesale prices, the high cost of energy reforms and cuts in income for many households means fuel poverty levels are set to skyrocket without radical action.’
To this toxic cocktail must be added the vast profits being made by the owners and shareholders of the privatised energy industry.
Their overriding drive to make a profit regardless of the cost in human life was cheerfully admitted by British Gas at a meeting in November with the London Assembly at which they justified their huge price increases saying: ‘We had to increase prices, we have to make a profit, we are a commercial organisation. We do only make five per cent profit and we have maintained that five per cent for many years.’
Five per cent profit for British Gas amounts to £345 million for the first six months of the year.
The largest electricity supplier in the country is EDF, a company that is state owned in France, where it enjoys a virtual monopoly and where its domestic prices are set by the government.
This year EDF increased the price of electricity in France by 2%, while in Britain, where it can charge what it likes, the increase was 11%.
When the Tories under Thatcher embarked on flogging off the public utilities to the private vultures, the big lie was that under capitalism private ownership meant competition and competition inevitably leads to lower prices.
The grim reality being faced by millions today is that privatisation and competition is a charter for the privateers to amass fortunes while working people, the elderly and young children, are forced to endure a future where the choice is between starvation or paying the gas bill.
With the working class quite literally being pushed over the brink into the abyss of abject poverty and misery in order to keep up the profits of the energy companies, there must be immediate action.
The government must be brought down with a general strike and replaced with a workers government that will renationalise the energy industry without compensation and under workers control.