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Activism

Cost of living update: Pensioners protest freezing homes and record energy bills

“It’s time the government took action to end this horrific annual cull of our oldest and most vulnerable,” said Jan Shortt of the National Pensioners’ Convention

What does it say about the country when your gran is taking to the streets so she doesn’t freeze to death? Pensioners held a protest on Thursday demanding action on excess winter deaths as record energy bills and poor housing conditions threaten the lives of the most vulnerable.

Protesters organised by the National Pensioners’ Convention, Fuel Poverty Action, and Disabled People Against Cuts held a minute’s silence to coincide with the release of excess deaths statistics.

Labour MP John McDonnell addressed crowds, while campaigners carried a coffin bearing the latest excess deaths figure to Downing Street.

Stuart Bretherton, of Fuel Poverty Action, and an Energy For All campaign coordinator, said: “In the world’s sixth richest economy and one of Europe’s largest producers of oil and gas, failing to meet people’s basic energy needs is a political choice. Energy For All is a proposal for a system that works for people and the planet, not profiteers or polluters.

“The polar opposite of this is struggling people having their homes broken into, or meters switched remotely without warning, to a method of payment that could prevent them from heating their home this winter.”

Protesters from Fuel Poverty Action gather in Westminster and hold a minute’s silence to remember those that have lost their lives this and every winter due to cold and damp homes. Image: Denise Laura Baker

Over 35,000 more people died than expected in the last six months of 2022, a figure near the highest level in 70 years.

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“It is shameful that anyone should die from cold-related illness in this country. But we fear that the rocketing cost of living, rampant energy prices, and the disastrous crisis in the NHS and social care will see tens of thousands more die in this way,” said Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners’ Council.  

“It’s time the government took action to end this horrific annual cull of our oldest and most vulnerable.”

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Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Energy Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs: “The government are supporting households with their energy bills through the energy price guarantee, the energy bills support scheme, and alternative fuel payments for households that use alternative fuels such as heating oil to heat their homes.”

Speakers addressed a rally at the George V Statue in Westminster at 11:30, before a minute’s silence as Big Ben struck midday.

Almost 2,000 more people died than normal in the first week of January alone, and excess deaths have reached their highest rate since February 2021, when the coronavirus pandemic was at its deadliest.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine claimed delays in emergency treatment were causing 500 deaths a week – a figure denied by NHS England.

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“Forcing people onto pre-payment meters is turning energy debt into a death sentence for many.  Suppliers are doing this in defiance of their licence conditions, while Ofgem, the courts, and the government are colluding,” she said.

“Many people rely on energy to power stair lifts, wheelchairs, hearing and respiratory aids as well as the heat, light, refrigeration and connectivity that we all depend on.”

The Big Issue revealed last year that courts had granted more than 187,000 warrants to energy companies, allowing them to enter customers’ homes to forcibly install prepayment meters.

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said the government was “actively working” to ensure customers are not cut off from prepayment meters.

“It is a matter of considerable concern that anybody should be removed from their power or heating,” Shapps said in parliament.

“We have specifically asked the energy authorities not to go down that line and asked Ofgem to do the same.”

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