On Tuesday 26th November about 250 people, and countless cameras, gathered in the heart of London to march to NPower’s supply and trading offices. Protesters gathered with banners, a coffin, masks of fuel poverty perpetrators David Cameron, George Osborne, Ed Davey and CEO of NPower Paul Massara.
Protesters also gathered outside British Gas’ offices in Oxford and in the heart of Bristol.
On Tuesday, the Office of National Statistics also announced that there were over 30,000 ‘Excess Winter Deaths’ for the winter 2012/2013. With at least 30% of these deaths thought to be caused by fuel poverty, figures would suggest that at least 10,000 people died from fuel poverty last winter. Figures were much higher than anticipated even after what was a cold winter when bills were very high (though not as high as they are now).
Groups who were represented at the protest included: Lambeth Pensioner’s Action Group, Climate Revolution, Power for the People, Lewes Against Cuts, Young Friends of the Earth, Single Mothers Self Defense, Winvisible alongside organisers Fuel Poverty Action, Disabled People Against Cuts, UK Uncut and the Greater London Pensioners’ Association.
We marched on the streets before blocking Threadneedle Street, which the NPower offices sit on. There we heard testimonies from those affected by fuel poverty as well as hearing a whole host of inspiring speakers. Before the action our website was flooded with testimonies of cold homes, worries of debt owed to energy companies, stories of homes being broken into so energy companies could force meters onto people. (If you want to add your testimony, you can do it here: http://fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/speak-out-on-your-situation/ ) These served as a reminder of why it is so important that we take action on the issue of fuel poverty, against the Big Six and push for instead a fair, affordable, sustainable energy system that works for us, not corporate profit.
Around 1pm the protest ended as the cold began to bite, and thoughts began to turn to what would come next. The protest certainly didn’t end the problem of fuel poverty, unaffordable energy prices, shameless profiteering by energy companies, or being at the sharp end of an energy system that priorities burning dirty and expensive fossil fuels to pay out bonuses instead over creating an affordable and sustainable energy system that works for us.
But it DID bring lots of people together, and it is the beginning of a fightback against a situation the government and energy companies want us to believe we can’t change for the better. We know it can, and must, be better.
It also prompted lots and lots of people to speak out on their situation- and we will be getting in touch with as many people as we can to see if there is anything Fuel Poverty Action can do to support you.
Fuel Poverty Action have a free ‘Keep Warm Cafe’ on Friday 29th November at 10.30am– there will be a chance to drink free tea, coffee and biscuits in a warm environment, with advice on offer as well as a chance to chat about what we, together, can do about fuel poverty.
This is at Crossroads in Kentish Town, London, NW5.
We are also hosting a mini-speaker tour by an activist from Berlin who was involved in campaigning on the Berlin energy referedum in the week of 9th-13th December- further details TBC very soon.
If you have been inspired to get involved in Fuel Poverty Action please email: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how you can get involved.
Media coverage of the protest:
Bring Down the Big Six: NPower is announced as our target!
Join Fuel Poverty Action, UK Uncut, the Greater London Pensioners’ Association and Disabled People Against Cuts for an outrageous, creative and inclusive protest against fuel poverty deaths on November 26th at 11.30am in Central London.
Meeting point: Outside the Royal Exchange, by Bank Station, to march to NPower offices together
On November 26th, the number of people who died last winter from cold homes will be announced. But we won’t stand for any more unnecessary deaths caused by price-hiking, polluting, profiteering, tax avoiding energy companies. So join us as we take to the streets in central London to target one of the main energy robbers driving fuel poverty.
We will meet outside the Royal Exchange, by Bank Station, and then move together to NPower offices (address: Npower, 60 Threadneedle Street, London, EC2R 8HP).
As the Big Six energy companies hike up prices we are told the only answer is to put on a jumper, leaving millions of us to choose between heating and eating. While the energy companies spread the lie that ‘green taxes’ are to blame, we know that the real problem is the privatisation of our energy for profit and the sky-rocketing cost of dirty fossil fuels.So bring your kids, neighbours, grandparents, your warmest jumper and your latest energy bill — and come join the fightback for the alternatives: warm, insulated homes and clean, affordable energy. It’s time to bring down the Big Six and put power back in people’s hands.
See you on the streets.
>> If you’re a grassroots organisation and would like to add your name in support of the action please email: email@example.com.
We so far have support from: Power for the People, Climate Revolution, Barnet Alliance for Public Services, Southwest Against Nuclear, Frack off London, Lewes Against Cuts and Young Friends of the Earth!
British Gas announce price rise; we say the fightback starts now!
British Gas’ steep price rises are sure to send a shiver down the spine of millions of their hard up customers, particularly in the knowledge that Centrica, their parent company, reported £1.58billion operating profits in the 6 months to June this year.
However, British Gas are not the first and will not be the last Big Six energy company to announce huge bill increases this autumn. It’s time to recognise that switching from one expensive, profiteering company to another does not provide us with a solution, when the problem is the Big Six themselves.
High bills and price rises will force millions of households to choose between heating and eating this winter. Coupled with yet more threats published today from the energy sector about the lights going out, it is clear that the energy system is no longer working for us.
There is an alternative; clean, affordable, democratically controlled energy and we need fair and rapid investment in renewables to start now. Until energy is not for profit and under the ownership of the public and communities, we will continue to be at the sharp edge of profit hungry companies and ever increasing global fossil fuel prices.
It is clear that we can not let energy companies continue with business as usual. We will shortly be announcing our plans for the winter, so keep checking back…
If you want to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Please see below for our story about when we made an appearance at the British Gas AGM in May…
Fuel Poverty Action turn up the heat at British Gas AGM
The Annual General Meeting of a big company is usually a showpiece opportunity for board members and executives earning six – or seven – figure sums a year to paint a glowing picture of their cash-cow’s financial health, social responsibility, gender diversity, and contribution to the community. But in the case of British Gas, a once-publicly owned company whose product happens to be something we all depend on to live, there was always the potential for an explosion. While many of the thousands of shareholders who turned up to a huge room in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre yesterday were shareholders concerned about the return on their money (and even complaining that the company was not ruthless enough), others holding shares were British Gas customers furious about their bills.
Smooth-talker Sir Roger Carr, in the chair, called first on people near the front of the hall, with many of whom he seemed to be on first name terms. Not all were happy; a local councilor, for instance, spoke about constituents dependent on foodbanks. Andy Greene of Disabled People Against Cuts who had come with Fuel Poverty Action, asked about the company being in collusion with the government, and loaning staff to DECC to influence policy, when really energy and warm homes were a basic right. ‘Oh yes’, replied the Chair and CEO Sam Laidlaw, ‘we do this to give help to government on execution of policy…to prevent unintended consequences…we’re responsible citizens… there is “never a conflict of interest”.’
The company made much of their claim that, with the profits resulting from an extra cold, extra long winter, they would do their best to keep their prices ‘competitive’ and would hold them down ‘as long as possible’, instead of offering shareholders a ‘bonanza’. A cool move, when they must have worried how the windfall would go down at an AGM where they expected customers.
But the self-congratulatory tone was well and truly sunk when Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action commented that up till then – that is, for the first 9/10ths of the meeting – every single speaker had been a man. It was mothers, she said, who went without meals so they could put the shopping money in the meter to keep the kids warm, and pensioners, in the majority women, who died from fuel poverty. Cancer patients, she said, were turning off the heating last winter because they couldn’t afford to keep warm. Deaths from hypothermia had doubled in the last five years. How many of the £7,200 deaths from cold homes last year, she asked the panel, had been British Gas customers?
And why was British Gas actively lobbying the government for investment in gas, and not renewables, when the price of gas was inexorably increasing, and the cost of renewables coming down – and when two-thirds of the recent increase in bills had been due to soaring gas costs? Limiting climate change was not an optional extra – it was already pushing up the price of food, already causing extended winters and mass flooding in the summer. Was this what the panel wanted for their grandchildren?
This intervention was widely applauded by what was actually quite a diverse audience including all ages, races, and many disabled people. The chair, in response, replied, somewhat feebly, that these were all ‘important social points’, and ‘the death of even one customer would be enough to concern us’, while assuring shareholders that at the same time, British Gas is “not a welfare operation but a business.’ ‘We don’t shut people down’, he said, ‘when they can’t pay their bill’. On climate he maintained that ‘the difficulty government is finding is the gap between having a laudable objective and having the money to achieve it. Renewables have to be taken on board as a cost by the people who believe it’s the right thing to do.’
Both points were taken up later by John Thompson of FPA who commented that although the company might not cut people off for not paying their bills, they did impose prepayment meters, that resulted in customers cutting themselves down. Sir Roger maintained in response that there was always a helpline available for vulnerable customers – not quite sufficient!
Again, John questioned the company’s lobbying the government for gas; ‘I’m going to have to live in this world you are creating with carbon now at 400 parts per million and the climate heading for a disastrous six degree rise in global temperatures.’ Again the panel noticeably failed to deny their part in shaping policy. Citing the fact that John Gumner, head of the Committee on Climate Change, recently wrote to George Osborne warning that a new generation of gas power stations could be illegal, John asked: ‘is it your position that the UK should not meet its legally binding carbon targets?’ In response, Sam Laidlaw, CEO, said gas would always be needed to back up wind, which did not blow all the time, and carbon capture and storage – unfortunately not yet in existence – was ‘the long-term answer’.
John finished off by confronting the board on price fixing, asking whether the company bleeped out in a high-profile Guardian audio, labeled as ‘notorious’ for fixing the gas market, was Centrica. This was denied: ‘This is not our company, not our ethos. If anyone was found to be involved in that, this would be completely unacceptable.’
The AGM protest ended with two pensioners and a wheelchair user taking to the stage and handing Centrica Chair Sir Roger Carr a ‘People’s Invoice’ asking for payment within 28 days for the harm done by the company. They then unveiled a banner that said: ‘Gas bills kill’.
Pensioners who had come with FPA, to speak for members of Islington Pensioners Forum, Greater London Pensioners Association, Lambeth Pensioners Action Group and National Pensioners Convention failed to get called on to speak, as did another woman who came because of her fury at how she’d been treated by her own fuel company. But most had a chance to take part in the demo outside the meeting. We definitely made an impact on their own front lawn. Let’s keep turning up the heat…
Front page of ‘The I’ edition of the Independent