So, we’re back here again this year with the NPC to mark the thousands of deaths suffered by people who can’t afford to heat their homes.
This year is worse — because cold damp homes and a rampant respiratory illness do not go well together.
And next year will probably be worse again, because the price of gas has soared and it’s still going up.
The people who pay the highest prices are the ones who have least to begin with, like people on PPMs. That has to change.
Millions of people are rationing every hour of heating.
Pensioners are staying in bed to keep warm, or going to bed early, getting ill from the cold, and in some cases dying lonely, miserable deaths.
This protest is not just to MARK these deaths.
It’s not just an annual ritual to say we won’t forget them. That would be important enough. But this demonstration is more than that. Because these thousands of deaths are totally avoidable.
The government says there is no money to save lives. Yet there is PLENTY of money.
I’m going to take a risk now — because it’s hard to take in any numbers in a speech.
It’s particularly hard when these numbers have loads of zeros on the end.
They count on us to not notice when they give out millions and take away billions — what’s the difference after all? Just some zeros!
But I’m going to take the risk of giving a few examples of where to look for the money we need.
- This spring, the government closed down early the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme, which was supposed to help UK householders insulate our homes. This scheme was so badly designed and managed that it collapsed after just six months. The money has not been replaced. The Treasury still has that money, which could still be used to insulate our homes, keeping us warm, bringing down our bills, and reducing carbon emissions at the same time.
- Because of rising energy prices the UK Treasury could gain an extra £1bn in carbon tax, on top of £4bn they’ve already made this year. Plus another £100 million from VAT receipts due to rising energy prices.
- Oil corporations, internationally, are returning exceptional profits on the spoils of these extra high prices we are paying. On 4 November we wrote to Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, demanding a Windfall Tax on this money — to be used to relieve fuel poverty.
- A wealth tax on the richest 1% of households in Britain – those with fortunes in excess of £3.6m – could create at least an additional £70 billion a year — even with 50% tax avoidance!
It is worth looking closely at that £70 billion.
A few weeks ago, at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, the international deal to mitigate climate change was nearly derailed because all the rich countries together refused to find $100 billion for poorer countries that are ravaged by floods and droughts and wildfires and famines — countries where people have done nothing at all to cause this catastrophe that is now threatening life all over the world.
$100 billion they could not find. Yet £70 billion pounds — £70 BILLION — is about the same as 100 billion dollars. That money could come from a wealth tax on just the richest 1%, in just one small country, the UK.
The world is being driven into a ditch and millions are going cold, or dying of heat stroke, or starving, to save pennies that would not even be noticed by billionaires in their yachts and private planes.
This country, even just the City of London, has plenty of money.
- It is subsidising fossil fuels — those same fossil fuels that were supposed to be so cheap that we couldn’t afford to switch to renewable energy, those same fossil fuels that we now can’t afford.
- It is going on wealthy individuals joyriding into space, even as we are all being told to cut down on carbon emissions.
- Thirty UK millionaires are ASKING for their billions to be used to support people who are struggling to survive. They have told the chancellor, “We know where you can find that money – tax wealth holders like us.”
And at the same time, Universal Credit is cut,
Disability benefits never got the uplift in the first place,
take home pay is hit by the NI tax,
and the government has “suspended” the pensions Triple Lock.
And our precious health service, that our lives depend on, is being sold off, dismantled, and starved of funds.
Medical and care staff are leaving in droves because pay and conditions are so bad.
Within a few miles of the obscene wealth of private individuals who have profited from contracts and price hikes during the pandemic, are millions of UK families and pensioners going to bed hungry or shivering in the cold.
Families are rationing gas, electricity, and heating, sometimes to an hour or less a day. Children are unable to study, or play. Parents don’t know how they will get through the winter.
Almost every health condition is exacerbated by cold. And people who are old, disabled, homeless, hungry, or suffering from a long term illness, are at risk of death.
Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are not inevitable. They are an obscenity.
They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages.
This cannot be allowed to stand.
Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action, 26 November 2021