Fuel Poverty Crisis: Two out of three Londoners turn off home heating to save money

9th April 2016 / Editors Picks, United Kingdom

By new economics: Clean, affordable, democratic – it’s time for public energy in London

People can’t live good lives without enough energy to heat their homes, cook their meals and power their appliances. Cold homes have a terrible effect on our mental wellbeing and physical health, and London is at the forefront of a fuel poverty crisis.

Excess winter deaths in the capital spiked to 4,000 in 2014/15 – the highest level for 15 years – and in fuel poverty hotspots such as Newham, more than 1 in 7 households are unable to meet their basic energy needs. Last winter, 2 in 3 Londoners turned off or hesitated from using their heating due to high bills.

In a rich society like the UK this is an outrage. The experiment with a privatised energy system has failed us – the profit-driven Big 6 energy supply companies have ripped us off, evaded their social and environmental obligations and left people disillusioned. The time has come to look to the alternatives, of which there are many.

Public energy offers possibilities that the privatised Big 6 never can. Local governments are increasingly realising that not only can they play a role in expanding renewable energy capacity and investing in home insulation, but they can also reduce our energy bills at the same time.

In Nottingham, Bristol and Scotland new non-profit initiatives by local governments and housing associations are setting up fully licenced energy supply companies to provide citizens with cheaper energy and prioritise social justice – no more gouging customers for revenue wherever possible. A public company doesn’t need to resort to such tactics to cover its modest costs.

These new UK models are inspiring and we can learn a lot from them, but we think London can and should go further.

We’re supporting the Switched On London campaign in calling for a new energy company for the capital, owned by the Greater London Authority in collaboration with the boroughs.

The company’s mission should enshrine three objectives:

  1. Affordable: Eliminate fuel poverty
  2. Clean: Fully decarbonise the generation of energy
  3. Democratic and accountable: Make energy supply democratic and responsive to the needs and demands of users, workers, and citizens

Like Nottingham and Bristol a public company in London could offer lower energy prices by eliminating profits, extortionate salaries and advertising gimmicks. In fact, following these examples, we’ve calculated that it could reduce Londoners’ energy bills by up to 25% – an average saving of £328 per household.

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It could catalyse the installation of solar panels on buildings across the city to finally make the most of London’s huge generating potential.

And it could ensure a genuine public mandate and greater citizen engagement by pioneering democratic methods of governance, including a diverse board and local advisory assemblies.

The business model of the Big 6 cannot last – it’s dirty and expensive and people are fed up with it.

But there is an alternative, and people want to see it. Our new polling found 77% of Londoners agree that the capital should have a non-for-profit energy company that reduces the cost of energy and invests in renewables, while 73% said they’d be more likely to vote for a Mayoral candidate with a credible plan to cut their bills.

London should get ahead of the game and live up to its reputation as a modern and forward-thinking city by establishing an energy company that will inspire other cities and countries. More importantly, the next Mayor and the GLA must address the fuel poverty crisis that is ruining the lives of so many Londoners.

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