On October 1 this year, I will stop paying my energy bills as part of Don’t Pay UK. That’s when an 80 percent increase on current rates will kick in, the British energy regulator confirmed on August 26.
I’m among 120,000 people who have joined this movement, which aims to elevate the voices of ordinary residents of the United Kingdom who are scared for their futures while energy companies reap enormous profits.
I’m not an activist and I’ve never been an organiser in a campaign before. Don’t Pay UK is the ideal platform for me – we’re not blocking streets, we’re not stopping anyone from getting to work. We’re normal people.
I live in Hull and have a very typical family with a wife and two kids, a bit vanilla, actually. We have one boy and one girl; our youngest is turning two next month and our eldest is five. We had our children relatively young: I was 26 and she was 21 when we had our first.
I’m an information technology consultant working for the public sector and my wife works in financial services. We’re both very lucky – I had a pay rise in April and my wife started her job in January. We’re paid a lot better than we ever thought we would be at this point in time.
I worked my way through the ranks, starting in a junior project administration role, and moved up slowly to being a project manager. But the cost of living is creeping up behind me – just as I’m getting to a point in my career where I’m doing really well.
At the same time that I got my pay rise, the price of food and energy leapt drastically. Our nursery provider increased its prices. Everything went up. So we didn’t actually feel the pay rise. Practically every month we run out of money. We are still living pay cheque to pay cheque.
Each month, the week before payday, I find myself thinking about how we have scraps of food left; that we can’t go to the shops for a pint of milk.
We don’t live frivolously. My wife and I haven’t been on a holiday since we’ve been together – and we both live quite healthily. We don’t take the kids out somewhere each month for some exotic experience. And yet the cost of living catches up, every time something good happens. We just can’t break that cycle.
Our landlord has a five-year fixed mortgage, and has told us upfront that he won’t sell the house before the period is up. So the clock is ticking – we have a finite amount of time to save for a deposit. We’re taking all the steps you expect to make in your 30s. But every time we try to save any money, it just gets chewed up by energy bills, and we know it’s going to get worse. I’m already in debt to my energy company, before prices are set to go higher on October 1. That’s because every three months in England, Scotland and Wales, the maximum amount suppliers can charge is adjusted.
Regulators have said that the average energy bill will reach 3,549 pounds ($4,164) in October this year, compared with 1,400 pounds ($1,642) a year ago. And in January 2023, it’s expected to go up again to 4,266 pounds ($5,005).
These higher prices are leading to sky-high profits for energy companies like Centrica, Shell and BP. Shell reported second-quarter profits of $11.5bn last month. BP had its biggest quarterly profit in 14 years.
But Shell paid no tax on their oil and gas production in the United Kingdom in 2021. Both Shell and BP also paid no corporation tax or production levies on oil they procured from the North Sea between 2018 and 2020.
We can’t keep handing over our wages to these corporations so they can protect their profits and payouts to shareholders, while thousands of people in the country die each year because they can’t heat or cool their homes.
We know that there is a concerted effort by this government to move wealth and money from people – your average working-class and middle-class citizen – up to a small percentage of rich folks. Look at the cuts to services over the last decade.
I know this is a global energy crisis, but we look at other governments and see them taking action to look after their citizens. The French government restricted EDF in France from raising its prices by more than 4 percent. EDF in England was able to raise prices by 54 percent in April, and will be able to charge even more in October.
It feels like in this country, wealth is moving up the ladder, not trickling down. Average British people are paying extra to top up the profits of energy companies.
That’s why it’s so important to join Don’t Pay UK. We need to send a message to this government that it can no longer play with our lives. The government will use fear tactics, trying to scare us into paying the bills. They will warn us about our credit rating being affected. But I know I can’t afford higher bills – my credit rating will already be affected.
Last winter the British government offered a meagre 200 pounds ($236) loan for people to pay their energy bills. More recently, the government has announced a 400-pound ($472) subsidy to British families to pay their energy bills, while unveiling a 25 percent windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies. Yet it needs to do more.
What we want is for the government to reduce the energy price cap back to a level that’s affordable for all, and to bring in a larger windfall tax on energy companies that are making record profits.
In the long term, the government can keep bills down by investing in insulation to reduce energy use and look at bringing critical services like energy and water into public hands. That’s essential. When billionaires are profiting from electricity and water, their incentive will always be to do the least, to get the most. So energy companies will want to increase prices every year.
The whole point is charging the most they can to the consumer – while spending the least on infrastructure and their workers – to maximise their profits.
The vast majority of us will be seriously impacted by the rising cost of living – which means we’ve got immense power if we act together in our millions. If we don’t join together, bills will just keep going up. And we can’t outpace these bill rises.
Food banks in the UK are running out of food and turning people away. People are having to choose between paying their energy bill or feeding their children. The Don’t Pay UK campaign is our last resort. It’s the only choice we have.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.