Yesterday, energy bills for households across the nation rose by 50% or more, adding to a rising cost of living that is leaving many facing the biggest drop in living standards in a generation and even at risk of falling into poverty.
Today (April 2) People’s Assembly Against Austerity held a rally in Broadmead to articulate the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on people. Speakers came from Acorn Bristol, the Trades Union Council, Stop the War Coalition, Stand Up to Racism, Insulate Britain and the Green Party.
Sheila Caffrey, President of Bristol TUC, said: ‘People are struggling right now and this government has time and time again shown dislike and disregard for ordinary working class people.’
Caffrey, who is also a school teacher in Hartcliffe, said children have been forced to stay with relatives because their parents can’t afford heating, and that the school is working with charities to provide beds for some families.
The issues facing school’s like the one in which Caffrey works are a snapshot of the state of the nation. Caffrey said: ‘I’ve had children in my class this week come to school with holes in their shoes which we have mended with sellotape.’
Sellotape solutions offered to the public by the government include the council tax rebate, which Caffrey said will only lead to cuts to the services we rely on, and a £200 energy bill loan in October, which is according to Caffrey, ‘a way to keep companies’ profits high while shutting us up.’
Also speaking was Steve Gower, who spoke seated on the floor wearing the same orange hi-vis vest he wore as an activist with Insulate Britain during the group’s roadblocking campaign last year.
From behind an Insulate Britain banner he had laid out on the ground, Steve read from the statement he gave in court last December, where he received a two-month suspended sentence
Steve said: ‘Today, there are seven million men, women and children currently living in fuel and food poverty. Myself included.’
Speaking of his work as a volunteer advocate for the homeless Steve said: ‘Why am I here? Because it’s given a voice to the voiceless, a platform for the invisible and inner strength to our communities.’
He continued: ‘Many activists, charities and even sportsmen warned of more tragedies being predicted without action on the food and fuel poverty crisis. We held out little hope from the statement from the chancellor and the government. They seem blind or ignorant, with a lack of empathy or understanding of the injustices inflicted on the weakest and vulnerable in our society.‘
Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales joined the rally and spoke of travelling the country and hearing people’s experiences of the cost of living crisis.
‘And the story the same from all of them. People aren’t telling us their concerns, it’s worse than that: they’re telling us that they’re scared. Scared about the next bill to come through the door, abot the increase in food prices, about having to make critical decisions that they just shouldn’t have to make between heating their homes and putting food on the table.’
‘It should never have come to this,’ said Denyer, citing a recent calculation by Carbon Brief that David Cameron’s 2013 decision to “cut the green crap” and roll back policies supporting green energy and energy efficiency now costs every household in England £150 per year.
Denyer continued: ‘The Conservative decisions to virtually ban onshore wind farms in England and cut solar subsidies played a large part in the rising fuels bills that we’re seeing now because it has left us much more reliant on fossil fuels, and especially off Russian gas, than we should be.’
Throughout the speeches members of the public stopped and listened before continuing with their day. Previous Cost of Living protests in Bristol have failed to attract large numbers of people. As the crisis continues to bite across the summer discontent is sure to rise, and we may yet see large scale protests as the choice – faced by all too many – between heating and eating is countered by the choice between doing nothing and fighting back.