Re-nationalise the energy suppliers – the only way to end preventable deaths

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FIGURES released this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a dramatic increase in the number of preventable deaths among the elderly during the winter of 2016-2017.

Over last winter there were 31,800 excess winter deaths among the over-65s from cold-related illness, including heart attacks and strokes. This compares to 20,800 the previous winter of 2015-2016.

Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity Age UK, said of these figures: ‘This dramatic jump in excess winter deaths in England is a terrible rebuke to anyone who thought it was “job done” when it comes to keeping older people safe and sound through the winter. Remember that every one of these deaths was, by definition, preventable.’

She went on: ‘Many older people live in poorly insulated homes and worry about turning up the heating during the cold months, increasing their risk of ill health. In addition, we know the NHS and social care are under unprecedented strain and the net result is that poorly older people, often living alone, are not always getting the effective, timely help they need to nip emerging health problems in the bud.’

In Wednesday’s budget, the Tories had nothing to say about preventable deaths due to fuel poverty. Hammond did, however, offer tax breaks to North Sea oil and gas producers – so, money for the energy companies, but nothing to prevent another massive jump in winter deaths, preventable deaths not just confined to pensioners but affecting millions of workers who fall into the category of ‘fuel poverty’.

The Tory government stopped producing figures for the number of families trapped in fuel poverty back in 2015. Even then, these showed that there were over 3.5 million vulnerable households who are unable to heat and power their homes adequately – an increase of 500,000 over the previous year.

After two years of increasing austerity attacks on wages, the effects of the roll-out of Universal Credit which has left families without any money for food or rent, let alone heating, the number of households facing a cold winter has massively increased. No wonder the Tories refuse to publish any statistics now that will show that, for millions of workers and their families, it is no longer a choice between heating or food, they can’t afford either.

While pensioners and workers freeze and die from cold-induced, preventable illness, the energy companies are making vast profits. In August, it was announced that the big six energy companies who dominate the domestic market hit the highest level of profits on record of £1 billion last year.

That same month, Centrica, which owns British Gas, increased its prices for 3 million customers by 12.5% despite the fact that the wholesale cost of gas and electricity had gone down. An investigation by the Competition and Market Authority revealed that these six dominant energy suppliers were overcharging by £1.4 billion annually.

Now it turns out these six are preparing to consolidate their stranglehold on the energy market even more with the merger of two of these companies, SSE and npower. This would, according to the GMB union, create ‘a chokehold on the market’ that would exacerbate the market’s ‘current failings’.

The GMB is calling for the Tories to block this merger on the grounds it would create ‘a private cartel’. In fact, a private cartel with the companies working together to screw as much profit out of people’s need for energy and heating is exactly what exists since Thatcher flogged off gas and electricity to the privateers back in the 1980s.

All the calls by the Labour Party and the unions for the Tories to intervene to control these energy suppliers is a complete evasion and represents an acceptance of the whole privatisation programme of selling off vital resources to private companies who don’t care if millions freeze or face death as long as the profits keep rolling in.

The only answer to this crisis is for the unions to stop asking the Tories to intervene but to kick them out through a general strike and bring in a workers government that will expropriate the energy companies, and re-nationalise the industry without compensation to the privateers as part of a socialist economy.