Answer: Eh, not a lot really.
On the 4th of September this year disabled people from all over the country descended on Government departments as part of DPAC’s week of action, ‘Reclaiming Our Futures’. The focus of the week of action, the UK disabled peoples Manifesto (also co-incidentally called Reclaiming Our Futures) was handed in at each department along with a request for meeting Ministers to discuss implementing the demands in the Manifesto.
Cue prolonged silence.
Except from one corner. A minion from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) agreed to setup a meeting between activists and Department reps. And last week, that meeting happened.
Now, its important to keep expectations low going into these kind of exercises. Rarely have we heard of campaigners meeting with policy makers and coming out afterwards declaring; ‘Ok – job done. They’ve agreed with everything (or indeed anything) and are going to rewrite policy to incorporate all our asks. Well done folks. Pub?’
So preparing to be under-whelmed is par for the course. We weren’t disappointed.
Energy prices, the cost of living, fuel poverty and disabled peoples incomes are all topics which have been on the media agenda recently. These issues are so closely linked you could, in football speak, ‘throw a blanket over them’. And this department has (amongst other things) responsibility for overseeing how all of these issues are connected, and driving policy to deal with them.
Except this department is completely cold when its comes to finding ways to do this. (And don’t worry, I’ll run out of energy based puns soon). You see, despite the rapidly growing amount of research, or evidence as we like to call it, around the massive impact of fuel poverty on disabled people – this department really doesn’t know its arse from its elbow.
Presented with the departments latest scribbling around fuel poverty, The Fuel Poverty Strategy, there were a few obvious asks. ‘How much input did disabled people have into this?’ ‘Which groups of disabled people?’ ‘What evidence of the impact on disabled people informed this?’
(DECC) – ‘Eh, none.’
(DPAC/FPA) – ‘Sorry, which question is that the answer to?’
(DECC) – ‘Eh, all of them.’
If it wasn’t so serious, you might have thought you’d stumbled into a read through for the BBC’s political satire ‘The Thick of It’. But it is serious. You see when your income and services have been stripped to the bone, when support is either at the most basic level or non existent (and due for further swinging cuts over the next 2-5 years), and you’re isolated and forgotten in your own home – then being able to adequately heat your home, feed your self and keep clean are hugely important in keeping body and spirit intact. So if you are the department charged with responsibility for addressing this , you might have expected to have a good handle on what was actually happening.
So, why don’t they know?
Is this an issue where the research isn’t being done?
Type the words ‘Disabled people’ and ‘Fuel Poverty’ into a well known search engine, and you will find endless research, reports and information. One BBC report 1 from 2008, yes 5 years ago, shows how up to 3 million disabled people potentially trapped in fuel poverty.
The University of Leicester produced a report 2 for the EAGA Charitable Trust in June – this year – which stated:
‘Official figures show that households with someone with a disability or a
long-term illness are at heightened risk of fuel poverty. The research
evidence demonstrates that many disabled people face difficulties in
affording adequate energy consumption to meet their needs, including
having to cut down on heating because of money worries. The negative
health impacts of fuel poverty are particularly likely to affect disabled
people and those living with long term conditions, among others.’
The report goes on to say, with reference to disabled children:
‘Research evidence also shows that disabled children and young people are
at high risk of poverty and disadvantage. It is also important to note that
the number of children experiencing disability is rising. Families with one or
more disabled children are likely to experience extra costs compared to
those with no disabled children, and face difficulties in affording fuel and
other essential costs.’
The University of York’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work and the Centre for Housing Policy has led the way 3 with extensive research into this area. Including criticising the way fuel poverty is defined. It recommends, amongst other things, that support funding such as DLA (Disability Living Allowance) shouldn’t be counted as income, as is the current practice. This funding is allocated to meet the extra costs brought about by the barriers in society, and isn’t ‘income’. (As an aside, reports are growing that receiving DLA is now also being used as a reason to refuse those affected by the Bedroom Tax & Council Tax Benefit changes access to the Discretionary Housing Payments – a disgrace).
So, there is mounting evidence available, using the most basic keywords, at our fingertips.
Are disabled people hard to find?
Hmmm. Try typing ‘Disabled Peoples Organisation’ into that same search engine. Then prepare yourself for a long read. Thousands of organisations appear, from some User Led set-ups, to the huge corporate charities ‘representing’ disabled people. Thousands.
There aren’t thousands of energy providers, you can count them on your fingers and toes. You would have a much smaller group to work from to find someone to speak for these companies. Unless you worked in DECC. The recent Greenpeace 4 FOI shows how the furthest civil servants have to go to find an energy firm rep is across the office floor. You can’t open a drawer in DECC without some ‘policy advisor’ on secondment from one of the Big 6 popping out of it.
Despite energy firm employees – and energy firms – being much thinner on the ground than disabled people and their organisations, DECC seems to work very hard and finding and connecting with one group, and working very hard at not finding and not connecting with another.
So we have the evidence that something is clearly wrong. We have access to the group of people affected, who understand the issues, and can contribute political and practical solutions as to how to correct what is clearly wrong, as disabled people have contributed enormously in this way for decades. See ‘The Social Model of Disability’ and the ‘Independent Living Movement’ for some fine examples of this contribution.
The missing piece? Political will.
Yes, there is will enough to pay lip-service to tackling the Big 6’s stranglehold on energy provision. Lip-service about price freezes, easy-switch process’s, simpler tariffs & bills, windfall taxes; it goes on and on. Its all rubbish.
I rang DECC recently and asked to speak to a ‘policy advisor’ from a green NGO, climate campaign or similar. The phone op was perplexed. No idea what I was talking about. But one from the legalised cartel? – no problem. There are even 2 there from Irelands state owned provider, ESB.
As long as these companies have their feet under the desks in Whitehall, writing Energy policy, nothing will change. Policy will continue to serve their interests, not ours. They don’t benefit from Energy policy – they design it. If it doesn’t suit their interests, it doesn’t go in. and their interest is only in obscene profit.
And there my friends is the crux of the problem. Its not just disabled people who’ve been shafted by privitisation of energy & utilities. Its not just pensioners, the working poor etc. this isn’t a competition or a race to the bottom.
We have ALL been shafted since first Gas (in 1986) and then Electric (in 1989) was given away. Without a mandate.
Which is why we should ALL join DPAC, U.K Uncut, Fuel Poverty Action and the Greater London Pensioners Association in central London on 26th November for ‘Bring Down the Big 6’, striking back at the heart of these corporate monsters.
Its time to demand a re-nationalised, clean & sustainable, democratically controlled energy sector, out of the hands of profiteers. One that doesn’t screw us daily, and do for those who cant afford to be screwed.
Whose re-nationalised, clean & sustainable, democratically controlled energy sector?
Our re-nationalised …..
See you in the streets.