The announcement by British Gas that it is putting up its prices by 6% this winter is tantamount to a death sentence for many of the most vulnerable in society, people who already living in poverty will not be able to afford to heat their homes and will perish as a result. The average dual fuel bill for gas and electricity is currently £1,240 a year. A six per cent price rise would add around £80, taking the annual bill for gas and electricity up to £1,320. This is enough to tip the household budgets of the 13 million people currently living in poverty in Britain over the edge, including those pensioners who qualify for the Winter Fuel Payment of between £100-300. The price increase by British Gas, the nation's biggest energy supplier, will directly effect 8.5 million households across the country.
This is nothing less than blatant profiteering, a crime which cuts to the heart of the barbaric state of British society in the 21st century, one that Charles Dickens, chronicler of Victorian era poverty, would immediately recognise. Moreover, it is the consequence of allowing sociopaths to control the levers of power and the nation's economy.
Today we have a government actively engaged in carrying out a vast exercise in human despair as an economic policy, alongside boardrooms which care not one iota for the human or social impact of the decisions they make to benefit themselves and their shareholders.
In the specific case of British Gas, which along with the other energy providers enjoy the benefits of an in-built monopoly over energy prices and profits in what is a de facto cartel; this is a company that made £345 million in the first half of 2012, a 23% increase. With the other energy providers certain to follow suit, customers have no choice or recourse to an alternative, especially those on pre-payment meters.
The Managing Director of British Gas, Phil Bentley (pictured), was £1.249 million in 2010, with a £596,000 bonus on top of that, up 15% from the previous year. In the same year British Gas made an operating profit of £598 million, an increase of 100%. It's a fair bet that Mr Bentley's parents or elderly relatives will not suffer the impact of the price increase he's just announced.
In 2009 a commission set up by the then Labour government found that 7.8 million people in the UK could not afford to heat their homes and predicted it would rise to 8.5 million by 2016. This means that fuel poverty in Britain has reached the level of a national crisis.
With the industry regulator, Ofgem, proving completely unsuited to the task of protecting consumers from the rapacious greed of British Gas and its parent company Centrica for exorbitant profits, it is high time the company was taken back into public ownership. Its privatisation under Thatcher's government in 1986 has proved a disaster for millions of people who've been held hostage by this greed in the three decades since, reflective of the untrammelled capitalism that has plunged the global economy into freefall in recent years.
More widely, at a time when a vicious Tory government is intent on continuing Thatcher's war on the unions, and with a Labour Party that is yet to completely throw off the yoke of Blairism, the poor and vulnerable in society are in desperate need of a firewall to protect them from the blind economic forces responsible for decisions such as the one just made by British Gas.
We have already seen a glimpse of the consequence of this lack of protection with the London riots that exploded last summer. Cutting benefits, wages, jobs, while raising prices and making survival an impossible task for millions of people is an equation that will inevitably lead to another social explosion. Indeed, it is almost as if they are inviting one.
At this rate they won't be disappointed.
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