THOUSANDS of people die each year from illnesses linked to fuel poverty.
Last year was a very cold winter, and this year’s winter is already predicted to be just as cold.
This means that tens of thousands of people, not just the extremely ill, or the very frail and elderly, will die of cold and the illnesses associated with extreme cold, as fuel poverty turns into a fuel famine, with millions going without.
Professor John Hills has called for a new definition of the problem, which focuses on people with low incomes driven into poverty by high fuel bills.
His report found that in 2004, fuel-poor households faced a shortfall of £256 to heat their homes and avoid poverty, but in 2009 it was £402.
This year energy costs have already risen by 18.3 per cent for gas, electricity and other fuels on the year, while transport costs rose 12.8% and food prices were 6% higher than last year.
This 18.3% rise and the further rises due to take place in the gas and electricity industry, make it absolutely certain that millions will not be able to afford fuel this winter, and will freeze.
Professor Hills found that there are 27,000 extra deaths in the UK each winter compared to other times of year, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.
That figure is one of the highest in Europe and worse than Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway and France.
‘It’s a very serious problem’, said Prof Hills. ‘There are people dying, maybe more people dying each year than die on the roads, it’s a problem of hardship for low-income families who are having to pay out more when they’ve got hard-to-heat houses and it’s a problem for countering climate change.’
The latest figures from the Department of Energy and Climate change suggested four million English households fitted into this category in 2009, in a sharp increase from 1.2 million in 2003.
Estimates from the Centre for Sustainable Energy suggest that number has risen to 5.5 million for England and an estimate of 6.6 million for the UK.
But Prof Hills suggests the current definition does not focus tightly enough on fuel poverty.
Instead, he suggested people be defined as fuel-poor only if their bills were relatively high and if paying those bills would push them below the poverty line.
There is only one way out of this fuel price crisis. That is to renationalise the gas and electricity industries and to put them under workers’ control to put an end to fuel poverty, and the winter fuel death rate, by taking the profit out of fuel.
The fact that the energy chiefs openly say that the next two decades are going to be ones of major increases in energy costs makes it perfectly clear that under crisis-ridden capitalism this is not a problem that will go away of its own accord.
In fact the crisis is going to make the situation much worse.
At the same time Miliband and the Labour leaders are making it perfectly clear that the renationalisation of the gas and electricity industry is nowhere to be seen on their agenda, and that just as they now support Thatcher’s counter-revolution that brought in the sale of council houses, that saw the return of the housing crisis to the UK, they also support her privatisation of the gas and electricity industries, and the shutting down of the nationalised coal industry under Major and Heseltine.
The Labour leaders are only interested in saving British capitalism and its bankers and bosses from their crisis, and are quite prepared to sit back and watch the working class suffer as they are made to pay for it.
Only a workers government that renationalises the energy industries, to take the profit out of keeping warm in the winter, can solve the winter crisis. However, for this to happen requires a socialist revolution.