26 Nov 2013

Winter deaths soar as protesters target energy firms

“Justice not jumpers”: crowds gather in four cities to protest against price hikes by the “big six” energy companies, as new figures show “excess winter deaths” rose by a third last year.

Anti-austerity groups campaigning against fuel poverty carried a coffin full of energy bills to the offices of npower on Tuesday, to symbolise those who died last winter due to cold conditions.

The protest coincided with the release of the latest official figures which showed that “excess winter deaths” had risen by almost a third in England and Wales last winter. There were 31,000 additional deaths last winter, the ONS report stated.

The protests in London, Oxford, Lewes and Bristol also follow the disclosure that the earnings of Britain’s “big six” energy suppliers have multiplied five-fold since 2009, to more than £1bn.

The figures released by Ofgem on Monday show that together British Gas, E.ON, EDF, Npower, ScottishPower and SSE recorded underlying earnings – before interest payments and tax – of £1.19bn in 2012, up from £221m in 2009.

Clare Welton of Fuel Poverty Action said: “People are protesting to demand the alternatives to the big six’s killer cartel – a combination of publicly owned and community-controlled renewable energy, alongside mass insulation, would bring down the bills.”

Susan Jarrett of UK Uncut said: “The fact that people are dying of fuel poverty as npower and other energy companies rake in the money and avoid tax is a scandal.

“This government is not only unnecessarily cutting our services in the name of austerity but are allowing these energy companies to get away with murder, which is why we are fighting back.”

Suppliers have blamed rising wholesale energy prices, higher distribution costs and government green levies for the increases.

Energy UK, which represents the energy industry, said the latest figures showing rising profits did not take into account the costs of “huge investment” being made by energy companies and used profits calculated before interest payments and tax were deducted.

Labour has pledged a two-year freeze of energy bills if the party is elected, which has put the coalition under increasing pressure to address consumers’ dissatisfaction with price hikes to their bills.