Fuel poverty in Britain

This video is about fuel poverty in the United Kingdom.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Gestures cut no ice with us

(Sunday 09 November 2008)

WRITER and broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell has been appointed by the government to be a “voice for older people.”

While one can have few reasons to dislike Ms Bakewell, as a cultured, anti-Iraq war, occasionally Labour-supporting and generally progressive individual, it stretches the imagination to envisage her rushing from room to room turning down the central heating as she struggles to solve her heating or eating dilemma.

And, make no mistake about it, that is what it means to be old for millions of people in Gordon Brown‘s frigid Britain these days.

Over a third of older people, around 4.5 million, sometimes stay or live in just one heated room of their home according to a survey released yesterday by the British Gas/Help the Aged partnership.

Mind you, one shouldn’t object to Ms Bakewell’s new position overmuch.

It may well be that someone more personally acquainted with the trials of pensioner poverty would be rather more abrasive in the role and one has to ask why such bodies as the National Pensioners Convention have been bypassed in the search for a voice for the elderly.

But at least Dame Joan is generally on the side of the angels, which is a damn sight more than can be said for the cheeky buggers in British Gas, whose alliance with Help the Aged has called for the government to take a more local approach to ending fuel poverty by investing in income-maximising programmes in areas that are known to be fuel poor.

Such an appeal might have carried just a little more credibility if British Gas had not just racked up annual profits of £571m by its residential arm, a rise from £95m in 2006, the year in which it announced the biggest ever energy price rise of 22 per cent, not so coincidentally exactly the same percentage rise as the payout it made to shareholders.

Oh, and let’s not overlook the increases in January of this year, which saw gas and electricity prices increase on average by 15 per cent.

It is perhaps time that somebody whispered a cautionary word to Mervyn Kohler, the special adviser for Help the Aged and spokesman for this dodgy partnership, that charities should be a little more careful when choosing their bedfellows if they don’t want to be seen as mere conscience-salving window-dressing for transnational profiteers.

And it isn’t only the elderly that need a voice separate from big business to highlight their concerns.

As UNISON points out, it isn’t only the old who are hit hard by fuel poverty. The heat or eat dilemma faces millions of low-paid workers as well, particularly young workers afflicted by the nasty and pointless reduction in the minimum wage for 18-21 year olds, for whom the fuel price rises have been a colossal burden on single people and young families.

Both government and charitable institutions must come to terms with the chilly fact that neither all the well-meaning, publicity hungry gestures in the world nor pointless alliances with money-grubbing profiteers will heat even one cold and poor household.

What is required are controls on profit-taking in the energy industry, which will only come about by wholesale renationalisation, and a genuine interest by the government in real measures to alleviate the conditions of the poor, the needy and the powerless in this country, not gestures which may earn a few goodwill votes, but will, literally, cut no ice with the real working class voters of Britain.

The number of people in fuel poverty in England is expected to rise from 6 million today to 9 million by 2016: here.

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