As the light in the tea-time sky grows less, autumn begins to uncoil itself over the land like an intemperate vagabond. Today, in the air I can smell the scant trail of smoke from the fires lit in the hearths of homes that are trying to keep the cold outdoors – despite the spiralling costs of energy. This inclement weather leads me on cat’s paws to a winter that occurred, long ago during the Great Depression when I was a bairn and there was nowt to eat and nowt to heat. It was truly a time of discontent with more than 20 million people mired in enormous economic difficulties. The era was so desperate that I, along with other children from working class stock pinched coal from colliery slag heaps and hoped that those busted shards of fuel would burn the damp out of our dismal terraced houses.
Today, the living conditions of an average citizen are not as bleak as those that I experienced as a boy. However, for those who must contend with austerity on fixed wages or on a pension, the modern world is a harsh and unforgiving place. Moreover, this government and its support for big business over the ordinary consumer have pushed many economically vulnerable to the edge of the civilised state.
Perhaps one of the most distressing examples of corporate profit hubris is the increase in heating and electricity bills by four of the big six energy companies. This jump by almost 10% in the cost of heating one’s home will cause enormous hardship to the elderly in this country who are for the most part not wealthy and struggle to keep up with the cost of living.
This may be why the PM’s recent remedy to combat the chill of winter with a jumper, stung me as much as chilblains did in my boyhood. It clarified to me what I had already suspected that in Whitehall, there are few who have experienced the ordinary trials and tribulations of middle and working class life. One quarter of this country’s population has experienced fuel poverty, which means they have had to economise to keep their homes heated or, even worse, they have gone without food to keep the lights on in their houses. Whether the government wishes to acknowledge it or not this is a real crisis for too many people in this country. Yet MPs are more accustomed to listening to the concerns of corporate lobbyists for the energy industry.
It is not that our politicians don’t have solutions to the escalating cost of energy because each party has offered remedies. Some even make sense – like capping energy prices, taxing these companies or subsidising the cost of heating one’s home. The problem is that all of these proposals to cure the outrageous price of energy are for winters in the future. This is why I fear that this coming winter will be unnecessarily harsh on too many vulnerable people because it’s impossible to keep warm on promises of relief that can’t be burnt until 2015.