Profiteering by the energy companies is no longer a moral issue it is quite literally an issue of life and death for the most vulnerable in society, currently facing the winter with the dread of people who've just been handed a death sentence.
This is the impact of one of the most despicable examples of the barbaric face of unfettered capitalism witnessed in many a year with the recent hike in energy prices. Men whose collective salaries as CEOs of the top energy companies are a moral outrage in themselves have revealed a callous disregard for the consequences of their actions. While their Xmas, and that of their shareholders and families, will be a particularly joyous one this year, for millions it will be an exercise in survival. Not only that, these are individuals who can look forward to a very comfortable future, no doubt enhanced along the way with a knighthood here or an MBE or OBE there.
At the other end of the spectrum, according to the results of research into fuel poverty published in March this year, the UK came bottom of the league table for Western Europe with 19.2% of households in fuel poverty. Compare this to the Netherlands with 8.1% of households in fuel poverty and the extent of the crisis is stark. The research also revealed that each year over 7,000 people perish in Britain as a direct result of fuel poverty. This is before the most recent price hike.
It is the rotten reality of British society in 2013 and cannot be allowed to continue, else barbarism has triumphed over humanity in the world's seventh richest economy in the 21st century.
In 2012 it was revealed that energy prices had already gone up 63% in five years. Factoring in this year's price hike, we're now looking at something approaching 73% in six years. Meanwhile wages have gone down, unemployment and under employment up, and with the relentless assault on the poor and unemployed undertaken by a Tory-led coalition government whose favourite pastime is criminalising poverty, there appears little if any hope of meaningful steps being taken to protect those most at risk.
It comes to something when a former Tory prime minister, in the shape of John Major, feels compelled to go public with his concerns over the impact of the energy price hike. His idea of a windfall tax to ameliorate the suffering of those most affected was, of course, swiftly dismissed by the government. Ed Miliband meanwhile used part of his recent Labour Party conference speech to pledge a three year price freeze of Labour wins the next election in 2015.
Neither John Major's or Ed Miliband's proposals go far enough.
The glaring solution to what is now a political crisis is public ownership. The privatisation of the energy sector, introduced by Thatcher in 1986 with the 'Don't Tell Sid' share issue campaign, has been an unmitigated disaster for the consumer. Rather than introducing competition, deemed more efficient and better for the consumer, it has instead led to the formation of a cartel and brutal consequences for the consumer.
Gas and electricity are not luxuries, they are basic human necessities - which along with food and shelter are non negotiable factors in basic survival. Morally the argument in favour of public ownership is beyond dispute, given recent events, but also economically. According a report published earlier this year by Oxford Energy Associates the government gives the energy industry an estimated £12.7billion every year in subsidies.
If the political will for the full nationalisation of the energy sector is lacking, another way to deal with the crisis is for the government to enter the market with a state owned energy company to compete with the existing private companies. The prices charged by the state owned company would be subsidised and set lower than inflation. This would force the private companies to lower their prices accordingly or else go out of business. In other words a state owned energy company would act as an anchor, keeping the market under control in the interests of the consumer.
Something has to be done. David Cameron and his acolytes citing how they are working to increase competition in the market is an example of the 'crisis what crisis' attitude of a government divorced from reality. The free market isn't free. Its cost is measured in human suffering, despair, and in the case of energy prices - death. How many deaths is society prepared to accept in service to profits and shareholder dividends?
Pensioners in Britain who survived Hitler and the Blitz will not survive the winter. The realisation should be a source of shame and outrage on the part of every right thinking citizen.
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