Dear Leaders and Members of the Church of England,
In response to Church of England comments on fuel poverty and on fracking
Members of Fuel Poverty Action have been glad to see senior figures in the Church of England engaging with the issue of fuel poverty, an acute problem for so many members of the Church as for the population as a whole. As the days grow colder and as we approach the date of the grim announcement of the last years excess winter death statistics, the issue is at the forefront of many people’s minds, particularly for those facing an appalling choice between warmth and adequate food. We welcome the Church leadership’s awareness of this unacceptable situation. But we have been disappointed with the content of the high profile statements on fuel poverty from leading figures in the Church over the past months. We want to explain why, and to appeal for further support for our campaign, from you, Church members, leaders and groups across the country.
Justin Welby’s recent comments on the impact of energy firm price hikes on people on low incomes have been well received. However, his call for the Big Six to ‘behave with generosity and not merely to maximize opportunity’ misses the fundamental injustice of the situation. Our basic need to both eat and keep warm simply should not depend on whether energy executives are feeling charitable. Energy firms’ basic commitment is to shareholders’ profits, not to the public good. We need a system of public and community owned energy which is intrinsically geared towards providing for everyone’s basic needs.
We also need a system of energy production that is environmentally sustainable. Contrary to the narratives of the government and parts of the right wing media, the goal of addressing fuel poverty and the goal of environmental sustainability are by no means irreconcilable. The Committee on Climate Change has predicted that by 2050 a transition to a renewables-based energy system would likely take hundreds of pounds off fuel bills compared to the kind of gas-centric scenario favoured by George Osborne.[1 ] Such a transition would be sustainable and largely immune to the volatility of international markets.
We were surprised and disappointed by the Church of England’s statement on fracking in the summer. It played into the hands of media misrepresentation  by portraying opposition as ‘fail[ing] to take into account those who suffer most when resources are scarce’, and it misrepresented the activists. ‘Those who suffer most when resources are scarce’ were very much part of the protest. The group who came to Balcombe included not only Fuel Poverty Action but representatives of the Greater London Pensioners’ Association and of Disabled People Against Cuts, as well as many individuals struggling to pay their bills but equally concerned about the risk of fracking polluting their water. These protesters were conscious of the wide consensus that fracking in the UK would not offer a solution to fuel poverty. Even Cuadrilla’s PR representative, Mark Linder, told us that the impact of UK fracking on fuel bills would be ‘basically insignificant’. People in fuel poverty are realizing that the government’s commitment to fossil fuels is decidedly not driven by a concern for their situation.
The openness to a new UK fracking industry in the Church’s statement seems incongruous given the Church’s stated commitment to the carbon reduction target of 80% by 2050 . The chair of the Church’s Shrink the Footprint campaign, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, is cited on the Church website as saying, “In the 21st century, in an interconnected world, practicing love of neighbours means that we are committed to mitigate the effects of climate change which will fall disproportionately on the poor and vulnerable in the world.” Again, it seems incongruous for an official Church statement to cast aspersions on protesters engaged in that very effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Notwithstanding our disappointment with the content of the statements discussed, we know that within the Church of England there exists a great deal of commitment to tackling climate change and to addressing the worsening fuel poverty crisis.
We hope that many more members of the Church of England will support this winter’s campaign for a fair and sustainable energy system which provides for the needs of the whole population without sacrificing those of future generations. We invite individuals, groups and indeed congregations to join Fuel Poverty Action, UK Uncut, Greater London Pensioners’ Association and Disabled People Against Cuts for a creative and inclusive protest against fuel poverty deaths on 26th November, 11.30am, Central London. Meeting point to be announced soon. Keep updated by following us on Twitter, Facebook or our website: fuelpovertyaction.org.uk, or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org/ 07586 482 157). Groups around the country have been inspired to organize their own demonstrations on 26th November. Our Facebook page gives some pointers.
Please do respond to the concerns and invitation in this letter.
Fran Hartford on behalf of Fuel Poverty Action and Andy Greene on behalf of Disabled People Against Cuts.