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The Energy Giants’ Bumper Profits Are Your Bumper Bills

While BP's obscene profits double, people across the country are unable to make ends meet in the face of skyrocketing energy costs. It's a cost of living crisis for us – it's a cash cow for them.

The energy price cap is set to rise further in October by another 22%, just as temperatures drop. (MoMo Productions / Getty Images)

‘You want to live. You don’t just want to exist.’ Those are the words of Susanne, one of millions up and down the country struggling to survive as a result of the recent unprecedented rise in energy bills. ‘Our bill has so far gone up by sixty percent per month, while Carer’s Allowance went up by £2 a week.’

Susanne is a permanent carer for her sixteen-year-old daughter, who has Retts Syndrome, which results in multiple learning and physical disabilities. Among all those hit hard by the rise in energy bills, the specific circumstances of individuals with disabilities and their carers mean they’re facing some of the worst of it.

‘We’ve got a lot of equipment that needs electricity constantly, so there are things that we can’t turn off,’ Susanne continues. ‘Our daughter’s condition means she can’t regulate her body temperature, so we have to pay attention to the ambient temperature, meaning we have to have the heating on more than other families.’ When she’s home alone, Susanne says she just puts on ‘so many jumpers it’s ridiculous.’

This week, fossil fuel giant BP announced record profits of £4.9 billion for the first three months of this year—more than double what it made in the same period in 2021. The number of households struggling to pay their energy bills also doubled to five million in England from 1 April, after the energy price cap rose by a massive fifty-four percent, meaning a typical household will now pay £1,971 to the energy companies per year.

And that isn’t the last of it. The cap is set to rise further in October by another thirty-two percent [correction: this article previously stated twenty-two percent], meaning that the cost of heating an average home will have doubled in eighteen months, according to fuel poverty charity National Energy Action. When asked what she will do then, Susanne sounds exhausted. ‘I honestly don’t know.’

Tory Apathy

Calls for a windfall tax on the energy companies are growing louder as their bumper profits keep rising, but the Tories have so far skirted the issue with bluster about investments and green energy. Instead, back in February, billionaire Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered us his pathetic £200 ‘rebate’, which is actually a loan to be paid back to the government over the coming year—after prices have gone up once again. Sunak has also refused to raise benefits in line with inflation, plunging an additional 400,000 people into poverty.

To justify their apathy, the Chancellor and his colleagues have tried to frame the cost of living crisis as a natural disaster completely outside government control, or the cost of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—a myth ‘Money Saving Expert’ Martin Lewis has busted. Worse is that it’s not just a case of inaction: the government has simultaneously hiked the tax burden on working people to its highest level since the 1940s.

‘It just feels like we’ve got to go begging for handouts,’ says Susanne. ‘When you’re looking at your budget and you’re thinking, “I don’t know where to cut back anymore,” the future becomes worrying. My partner’s salary doesn’t go up year on year.’

Michelle, a fifty-six-year-old who cares for her adult son, who has autism, says families like hers have been hung out to dry. ‘I’ve not noticed any difference in government support.’

What was previously Michelle’s £50-a-month electricity bill paid via direct debit has now shot up to £135. ‘I’ve spoken to the energy company, and they said I could split my direct debit down into small payments, so I don’t have to pay it all at once,’ she says. ‘But even then, I’m struggling to afford the payments. I’m at the end of my tether, really.’

‘Stories like this are, unfortunately, common,’ Matt Copeland, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at National Energy Action, tells Tribune. ‘We are currently experiencing the biggest energy price shock in living memory. Millions of people are being priced out of adequate levels of heating and power. For all the anticipation of these price rises, many people on the lowest incomes are being pushed over the edge into poverty.’

Like many, Susanne finds the constant financial stress of the energy bill hikes is having a major effect on her wellbeing. ‘You know in your head there’s no point worrying because you know you can’t do anything about it, and you just have to carry on—but you do worry anyway, and it’s exhausting. You’re worrying about the bills all the time, you get paid, you try and do what you can, and then you’ve got nothing left.’

Things aren’t helped, she adds, by the sense of physical confinement financial stress causes. ‘I used to take my son out all the time,’ she explains. ‘I just can’t afford to, now.’ Her feelings are echoed by Michelle, who has had to turn to foodbanks, which she says leaves her anxious and depressed.

‘Debt is spiralling, and people’s physical and mental health is suffering,’ adds Matt. ‘People are being pushed into impossible situations, and while charities like ours will try to pick up the pieces for those in greatest need, it will be a near impossible task.’

Government By BP

For Susanne, the government simply doesn’t get it. ‘They have a rather Victorian attitude,’ she says. ‘We have to be cap-in-hand begging for things. I used to be a senior manager in a local authority, and I paid National Insurance and tax. I was happy to do that, because that’s what the benefit system is about—it’s supposed to be about helping people. But now I’m on the other end of it, I feel I have to have a begging bowl to ask for things, and there’s a sneering attitude when you say you receive benefits. I never thought I’d be in this position. I feel the stigma of it.

‘The measure of any society,’ she continues, ‘is how we treat out most vulnerable—and I don’t think it says much about our society the way the vulnerable are currently treated. We’re marginalised, pushed into corners, ghettoised.’

Twenty-four-year-old Nadia had to move out of her one-bedroom flat as a result of the soaring energy bills, and into a room with a family. ‘It was either going to be me eating or me paying all my bills,’ she says, adding that the stress caused her countless sleepless nights.

In her old flat, she paid a direct debit of £81 a month for her electricity bill. In December, however, she was sent a bill of £350 after her energy supplier went bust. After moving in March, she says, she heard nothing on a payment plan—until she received a bill dated from January to the end of March for £2000. ‘The government have done absolutely nothing to help people like me,’ she says. ‘Because of them I’ve had to move out of my home.’

Matt is keen to point out that it’s not luxuries that are being cut out of people’s budgets. It’s things that should be non-negotiables: warm homes, cooked food, hot water, clean clothes. Meanwhile, the CEO of BP has christened his company a ‘cash machine’.

When asked what she makes of the Tories’ refusal to impose a windfall tax on energy companies’ billions amid this growing catastrophe, Nadia is clear: ‘It just shows whose side the government is on.’

With the October price rise set to hit just as temperatures begin to drop, things could still get worse. Without action, they will.