Britain’s energy crisis is deepening by the day.
Last week, UK gas and electricity regulator Ofgem announced that the domestic price cap is set to jump by 80% from 1 October, raising household bills to an average of £3,549 per year. As a result, millions more are set to be plunged into penury this winter.
Even energy bosses and right-wing commentators are describing the situation as a looming ‘catastrophe’.
EDF senior executive Philippe Commaret has warned of “a dramatic and catastrophic winter for customers”, predicting that “half of the UK households might be in fuel poverty” by January – defined as spending 10% of income or more on heating and electricity.
Similarly, GB News host Dan Wootton recently exclaimed live on air: “How the hell have we got here? We are facing an existential energy crisis this winter. In fact, it’s an energy catastrophe.”
Elsewhere, personal finance expert Martin Lewis has described the situation as a “portentous national cataclysm”; a “genuine social and financial catastrophe that is putting lives at risk”.
Up and up
Other research provides even more daunting forecasts. One study from the University of York, for example, estimates that two-thirds of households in Britain – around 45 million people – are likely to be left struggling to make ends meet due to soaring energy costs.
And this October’s price hike, which already represents a trebling in the space of twelve months, is only the beginning.
Experts at consultancy firm Cornwall Insights are now predicting that the energy price cap will increase to £5,387 in January, and then to £6,616 in April.
Consequently, banking giant Goldman Sachs estimates that official UK inflation could reach an eye-watering 22% next year, if wholesale gas prices remain elevated.
The overall result will mean devastation for ordinary people.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a think-tank, is predicting “destitution” for the poorest single adults, stating that “stratospheric energy bills” could equate to as much as 120% of income after accounting for housing costs.
Some have even compared the financial impact for families to that seen in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crash.
In one recent survey by Deltapoll, a quarter of respondents said that their budget would ‘definitely’ not be able to stretch far enough to meet the October price increase, whilst 40% said that they ‘probably’ could not find the extra money needed to meet rising bills.
Local councils, charities, and volunteer groups, meanwhile, are already organising ‘warmth banks’ to provide refuge for those who cannot afford to heat their homes this winter.
Recent studies also indicate that, on a number of measures, Britain is going to be the hardest hit in western Europe by the energy crisis, due to the country’s reliance on gas and its poorly-insulated housing stock.
Gas and electricity prices in Britain are inflating by more than the rest of Europe; UK households will face a sharper fall in spending power due to rising energy costs, with an average drop of 8.3%; and the inequality in impact on the poorest and the richest will be larger than elsewhere.
This once again demonstrates the special crisis of British capitalism, due to the long-term decline, decay, and degeneration of the UK economy in the hands of the bankers and billionaires.
The Tory government has remained completely paralysed in the face of this impending disaster.
Both Tory leadership candidates have baulked at offering any measures to tackle the crisis, instead promising lashings of red meat to the rabid ranks of the Conservative Party, in the form of cuts to environmental taxes and regulations.
It is plain for everyone to see that the government’s existing proposals – for a £400 subsidy to bills, partially funded through a windfall tax on energy company’s mega-profits – are totally inadequate given the scale and gravity of the crisis.
Even senior advisers are calling on the government to move onto a “war footing” in relation to the energy crisis. But instead, the Tories are intent on waging a culture war on migrants and activists; a trade war with the EU; and a class war on workers and the trade unions.
Starmer’s Labour have called for an energy price freeze at current levels, which the party estimates to cost £29 billion.
Energy company Scottish Power, meanwhile, has suggested a similar government bailout for households, but predicts an associated cost of £100 billion over two years – higher than the entire amount spent on the COVID furlough scheme (£70 billion).
Another energy giant, Ovo, has also made a proposal for state intervention. But in both cases, it is less a case of the government stepping in to subsidise workers’ bills, than of subsidising the bosses’ profits.
Just as with the state support given to the banks following the financial crisis, or that provided to big business during the pandemic, the capitalists will be handed a blank cheque; and the working class, one way or another, will be made to pay, through further austerity down the line.
At the same time, all of these measures would only be a sticking plaster, at best, doing nothing to address the long-term issues plaguing the energy industry: the lack of investment in infrastructure and storage, which has left the country vulnerable to swings in supply and demand; the need to insulate millions of homes, in order to reduce heating costs; or the existential question of the climate crisis, and the urgent necessity for a green transition to renewable technologies.
All of these problems have arisen due to the utter failure of the capitalist market, which causes nothing but misery for the working class.
One-off windfall taxes and state handouts offer no real solution. Instead, the labour movement must fight for nationalisation, workers’ control, and socialist planning.
Them and us
Working-class families are set to freeze in their homes in the coming months. Fat-cat energy bosses, meanwhile, are beginning to feel the heat, with public anger erupting in response to news of their scandalous profiteering.
A newly leaked report from the UK Treasury reveals that the energy monopolies are in line to make extra profits of more than £170 billion over the next two years, as continuing supply shortages act to push up prices.
This follows on from recent announcements of record profits for shareholders by fossil-fuel corporations such as Shell and BP, and by giant energy providers such as Centrica, owners of British Gas.
Whilst millions sit in the cold this winter, in other words, the millionaires will be sitting cosily on mountains of cash, profiting from scarcity and shortages.
On the one hand, this shows clearly that the money exists to pay for this crisis. But it is currently amassed and accumulating in the hands of the capitalists, while the working class is presented with an ever-increasing bill.
On the other hand, this demonstrates the need for nationalisation of the energy monopolies, without compensation. We need socialist planning, not parasitic profiteering. We say: fight inflation with expropriation!
‘Freeze profits, not people!’
The indignation and rage amongst workers and youth is already spilling out onto the streets.
Last Friday, 26 August, just hours after the huge jump in the energy price cap was announced, a group of around 100 activists gathered outside Ofgem HQ in London, protesting against both the regulator’s decision and the government’s feeble response to the cost-of-living crisis.
There was a unanimous mood of defiance. Everyone agreed that the price rise was utterly unaffordable, and would push millions into fuel poverty.
Speakers highlighted that this is a direct attack on the working class, and particularly on the most vulnerable in society, who could quite literally freeze to death in the coming months.
The crowd’s chants reverberated around Canary Wharf, including: “Freeze profits, not people!” and “they say price rise, we say nationalise!”
Protesters against the energy price cap increase have gathered outside the Ofgem head office in Canary Wharf. pic.twitter.com/edzE8GGW7h— TalkTV (@TalkTV) August 26, 2022
Members of the audience were given the opportunity to put forward their views on the way forward. Every one pointed out the need to go out and build the movement.
In particular, a recently-formed campaign called Don't Pay UK was central at this protest, calling for a ‘consumer strike’ on 1 October – that is, for a boycott of bills.
Whilst well-meaning, this initiative is unlikely to gain traction as it currently stands. The campaign lacks organisation and structure, primarily consisting of an online petition and a loose network of activists.
Most importantly, it lacks any political perspective or programme.
As Socialist Appeal supporter Edgar stated, speaking at Friday's protest, a genuine non-payment campaign must be linked to mass action by the organised working class, and to the fight for clear socialist policies.
And these workers could soon be joined by their brothers and sisters in the energy industry, with the prospect of wildcat action over pay and conditions at offshore oil and gas rigs in the North Sea.
This shows the way forward for workers everywhere: through militant action and class struggle.
Friday’s demonstration was dynamic and enthusing. But small-scale protests and atomised boycotts alone are not enough to tackle the underlying causes of the energy crisis and inflation.
Instead, we need a mass movement mobilised around bold socialist demands – against the chaos of capitalism, and for the nationalisation of the energy companies and the expropriation of the billionaires.