Campaign groups Fuel Poverty Action, Unite Community, and their allies held nationwide protests this weekend, carrying out ‘Warm Ups’ to demand action on fuel poverty. People occupied British Gas offices, protested outside Scottish Power, and engaged their local communities.
However, not everyone was receptive to the groups’ demands. Security at a South London shopping centre removed activists, simply for ‘warming up’ – albeit with a rather large banner reading ‘Cold Homes Kill’.
Fuel Poverty Action: we need ‘energy for all’
Fuel Poverty Action has carried out Warm Ups for over a decade. Activists enter buildings or public spaces in order to warm up as a group. They do this on the grounds of being unable to do so at home due to unaffordable energy prices and the poor conditions of housing. Of course, Fuel Poverty Action and others are also making points about the cost of energy and how it leaves countless poor people struggling.
The actions are in support of the Energy For All campaign. Launched by Fuel Poverty Action in 2022, it demands that every household is guaranteed enough energy for safe and adequate levels of heating, lighting, cooking as well as protecting additional needs like medical and mobility aids. It would be paid for by ending fossil fuel subsidies, redistributing energy company profits, and higher tariffs on household energy use beyond necessities.
Unite Community launched the Unite 4 Energy For All campaign in November to support the demand, in collaboration with Unite the Union’s campaign to nationalise energy.
So, between Friday 1 and Sunday 3 December groups organised over 30 events as far afield as Southend-on-Sea, Portsmouth, Gateshead, and the Isle of Arran – raising awareness of the scourge of fuel poverty and the government and energy companies’ willful inaction.
Warming Up energy companies
On 1 December a Warm Up took place at Scottish Power HQ in Glasgow for the second winter running. Participants condemned warrants granted to the energy giant a month ago to forcibly enter the homes of families with newborn babies and install prepayment meters:
Meanwhile, protestors entered and occupied a British Gas office in Cardiff for 30 minutes, the amount of time they say it takes the company to make half a million pounds in profit:
Then, on 2 December Fuel Poverty Action ‘Warmed Up’ at OVO Energy’s HQ in Bristol. They bedded down with blankets, sleeping bags, and hot water bottles to symbolise millions of people struggling to keep warm this winter:
Further Warm Ups took place including at the Arndale Centre in Manchester and Kirkgate Market in Leeds:
Stuart Bretherton from Fuel Poverty Action’s Energy For All campaign said:
The energy system, with its high standing charges, forced imposition of prepayment meters and other inequities, literally punishes people for being poor. Energy starvation this winter means that lives will be lost if we don’t see concrete action from this Government. People are ‘warming up’ to demand our human right to energy is respected and delivered. There’s plenty of money in energy company profits to ensure access to clean and affordable energy for all.
However, one Warm Up in South London on 2 December was too much for a shopping centre’s security team.
However, around 10 minutes into the group’s action, and security were immediately getting involved – telling activists that the Glades was private property, and they couldn’t protest or speak to shoppers about fuel poverty there:
Undeterred, and somewhat ironically, Unite Community, South East London People’s Assembly, and the Chronic Collaboration took their Warm Up protest outside into the cold. So, instead of a shopping centre they commandeered Bromley’s Christmas tree:
The groups engaged with shoppers over the Energy For All campaign – with hundreds of people taking leaflets, and dozens signing letters to the government calling for it to act over fuel poverty:
‘We will be back’
Paula Peters is chair of Bromley and Croydon Unite Community. She told the Canary:
During the occupation of the Glades, security came along and told us it was private property and we were to leave. The action was peaceful and we were speaking to shoppers who were taking leaflets and signing Unite fuel poverty petition cards.
We were also warming up – as many of us activists included disabled people on pre-payment meters who simply can’t afford to heat their homes.
Security didn’t care about that, they chucked us into the freezing conditions outside.
The resolve of the activists yesterday was determined. We will be back for a future protest action very soon to highlight fuel poverty. While people are dying, suffering as a result of corporate greed we will keep campaigning.
‘Stand up and fight’
Nicola Jeffery is the founder of the Chronic Collaboration – a chronically ill and disabled peoples’ rights group. She told the Canary:
Fuel poverty is a growing problem in the UK. Yes that’s right, the UK – which is also one of the richest nations in the world. Over the last 13 years Tory governments have forced on its most vulnerable people continuous cuts under a policy of austerity. This has had a serious impact on chronically ill and disabled people, including affecting their health.
As a result of rising bills and forced pre-payment meters, many are unable to properly heat their homes causing them to be in fuel poverty.
Many people who struggle to heat their homes look for support locally. In some areas there are ‘warm banks’ available for people to use. Unfortunately, they are very few and far between and if you are chronically ill or disabled this isn’t always accessible or an option, leaving many struggling alone.
We have ourselves experienced fuel poverty. As a undiagnosed chronically ill and disabled single mother, I was forced to live for nearly two years in receipt of just child benefit. This meant that I literally had £20 a week to live on during that time, £10 on gas and £10 on electric. I was lucky that I could rely on my friends and family for food and support. Others are not so lucky and need so much more support then they are getting.
We at the Chronic Collaboration fully support Fuel Poverty Action and Unite Community’s collective effort. The government should act on fuel poverty – but it won’t. So, it’s up to all of us to stand up and fight.
‘Fuel poverty is costing human lives’
As Peters summed up:
The Warm Up action in Bromley and the banner drop in the Glades shopping centre were of vital importance to stress two things.
Firstly, the tragic impact of skyrocketing energy bills in a cost of living crisis, meaning millions of people are not able to switch the heating on, which is impacting on people’s health. Tragically, every winter fuel poverty is costing human lives.
Cold homes are killing people, and while people were Christmas Shopping in Bromley we wanted them to see that – hence the banner drop in the Glades.
Secondly, the leader of Bromley Council and Tory councillors in 2022 flatly refused to provide the funding for charities and social enterprises to have warm hubs in council wards in Bromley; the council leader said he wouldn’t waste the money on gas and electric, and told residents to warm up in Bromley libraries instead.
For many residents the nearest library is 1.5 miles away and only open 2-3 days a week due to Tory cuts. Their callous attitude shows what they think of residents – they simply do not care if people are cold and hungry.
This attitude from Bromley council is also entrenched across much of the political class in the rest of the UK. So, governments and councils will continue to abandon people. However, groups like Fuel Poverty Action, Unite Community, and the Chronic Collaboration will not stand idly by. More actions are expected throughout the rest of the winter.
Featured image via the Canary, and additional images via the Canary, Bromley and Croydon Unite Community, and Fuel Poverty Action, and video via the Chronic Collaboration
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.