Protests are taking place across the UK this weekend in response to rising energy costs and to challenge what is being referred to as the cost of living crisis.
Arranged by The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, the demonstrations are taking place today across several major UK cities, including Sheffield, Manchester, London, Bristol, and Newcastle.
Prices to shoot up
Last week, Ofgem announced it was raising the energy price cap by 54 percent, averaging a yearly increase of around £639.The 4.5 million people who are on prepayment meters should expect an increase of around £708. The average cost of annual bills will be £1,971 for those on direct debits or £2,017 for those on prepayment metres, which tend to be in low-income households.
Protester Sandra Lewis posted on the People’s Assembly Facebook page: “I am 100% behind these marches. We have all had enough.”
Geoff Watson commented: “Back to bread and dripping, if you can afford both, while this Conservative government eats the cake.”
The government’s role
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £200 loan for all households, dubbed a ‘discount’, and local councils will have discretionary funding to assist low-income households.
However, commentators have been quick to criticise the government’s involvement, drawing comparisons with the French government, which has forced their state energy giant, EDF, to take a €8.4bn (£7bn) hit to protect households from price spikes.
In comparison, the UK’s ‘Big Six’ energy companies made more than £1bn of profit ahead of the price increase.
Last month, SSE caused outrage when it advised customers to “do star jumps” to keep warm after it had raked in £600m in profits before taxes.
Prime Minister chooses oil and gas companies over UK people
Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh voiced the anger of many when she said:
“Instead of supporting people and businesses with the impending energy crisis, this government have decided to extend it for years to come and stand on the side of oil and gas companies who have been raking in record profits.
“This announcement is not good enough and will not bring any comfort to those who are making unimaginable choices between feeding themselves or heating their home.”
Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said:
“We know this rise will be extremely worrying for many people, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet, and Ofgem will ensure energy companies support their customers in any way they can. Ofgem is working to stabilise the market and over the longer term to diversify our sources of energy which will help protect customers from similar price shocks in the future.”
The energy regulator is encouraging struggling customers to contact their energy supplier as soon as possible, as further support may be available.
The extra squeeze on living
As well as rising energy prices, the cost of living in general is also increasing, with retail prices, national insurance, travel costs, and interest rates all going up.
Inflation is the highest it has been in 30 years, having jumped to 5.4 percent in December 2021.
The People’s Assembly has organised a “second and third wave” of protests for 5 March and 2 April.