As energy bills soar, energy companies are increasing their profits at the expense of the poorest households, the elderly and disabled people.
Rising energy bills disproportionately affect disabled people. We are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people, on top of which additional unavoidable expenditure faced by disabled people is on average 25% higher than that for non-disabled people. Disabled people also need to spend more on energy as they are more likely to spend time indoors with fewer opportunities to go out and access community facilities to keep warm. Some impairments are aggravated by cold requiring homes to be heated at higher constant temperatures to avoid illness and hospital admissions.
Meanwhile the ‘Big Six’ who control our energy are increasing their profits at a time when the poorest households are already suffering under austerity. Between 2004 and 2010 average electricity bills increased by 60 per cent and Average gas bills increased by 90 per cent. This year after SSE’s 9% price hike in September, British Gas followed suit in October with a 6% price rise means customers will be facing an extra £100 on their annual fuel bills. British Gas profits increased 23% in the last quarter.
Increasing benefit cuts with rising energy bills is a deadly combination for disabled people.
On 27th October Disabled People Against Cuts joined the Greater London Pensioners Association and Fuel Poverty Action in an occupation of the Westfield Centre in Stratford to protest against rising energy bills:
“Pensioners, disabled people and supporters defy security and police to protest against fuel poverty in Olympic shopping centre
Today, fifty people gathered in Stratford Westfield shopping centre to keep warm and to protest against fuel poverty. The “Warm Up” protest, organised by the Greater London Pensioners’ Association, saw pensioners join forces with disabled activists from Disabled People Against Cuts and members of direct-action network Fuel Poverty Action.
The protest came in the wake of EDF Energy becoming the fifth of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies to controversially announce price rises in recent weeks.
Shopping centre security and police threatened to forcibly evict the protesters, but were defied by pensioners and supporters who refused to leave. Those present accused security and police of attempting to force vulnerable people into the cold.
Furious at energy companies’ profiteering and government cuts, the GLPA said: ‘If we can’t afford to heat our homes we have a right to go into any warm building and make ourselves at home. We asserted this right today inside the toasty Westfield Stratford shopping centre.’
Protesters remained inside the shopping centre for an hour, leafleting shoppers and holding banners that said ‘Justice for Pensioners’ and ‘Energy to meet our needs, not for corporate greed’. A megaphone was confiscated by police after two speeches, before protesters marched outside together chanting ‘No more deaths from fuel poverty.’
Protesters received a warm reception from shoppers, some of whom joined the protest.
The event saw the GLPA launch their new petition demanding:
• That the government reinstate the Winter Fuel Allowance in full 
• That the energy companies reinvest in affordable, cleaner and
safer energy supplies and use their enormous profits to do so, instead
of putting the cost onto the consumer.
• That the government acknowledge an entitlement of all
including the sick, disabled people, the elderly and families with
young children, to a well insulated, warm place to live in good
Betty Cottingham from the GLPA said:
‘The Greater London Pensioners’ Association are extremely concerned at the thousands of preventable deaths in this country which are attributable to the cold and outraged at the continuing weak response of the government. Even at “lower” tariffs, bills are still unaffordable. Traditionally people have gravitated to places which are warm and sheltered – most often shopping centres, buses and libraries – in order to delay putting on the heating at home and this is why we’re here today. The shutting down of day centres and luncheon clubs has left the housebound with no alternative options to stay warm. We’re protesting today and will continue to until someone takes
Elizabeth Ziga of Fuel Poverty Action, one of six protesters who took part in a day-long occupation of British Gas headquarters in January, said:
‘People are fed up with our energy being produced to line the pockets of the Big Six while we’re left to suffer mammoth fuel bills and escalating climate change. The Big Six and the government are blocking the alternative of renewable energy, which would be cheaper and cleaner. We’re getting ripped off and left to freeze. Today’s protest, led by pensioners, will be the first of many. Expect a winter of resistance.’”
POSTED FROM: http://fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/2012/10/28/pensioners-disabled-people-and-supporters-defy-security-and-police-to-protest-against-fuel-poverty-in-olympic-shopping-centre/
For photographs of the protest, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/70150038@N04/
Video of shopping centre security arguing with protesters here:
Next Fuel Poverty Action London meeting: Thursday November 15 Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, Kentish Town, NW5 2DX 7pm-9pm.
Friends of the Earth have produced this briefing on Gas Prices: http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/gas_price_briefing.pdf