Voices: Why don’t we just clap for energy companies instead of paying them?

·5-min read

Things are looking pretty grim, folks. Energy prices are expected to reach £5,000 per year for the average household in 2023. Meanwhile, UK energy companies are raking in “unprecedented” profits, and our poor government is at a complete loss over what to do about it.

It’s gotten so bad that groups like Don’t Pay UK are suggesting that British energy consumers cancel their direct debits to these companies on 1 October, depriving them of even further hard-earned profits.

At some point, our strong and decisive UK leadership will surely step in to prioritise its citizens over the whims of a small group of billionaires, and place restrictions on the same companies they allowed to bleed us dry in the first place, when they privatised all of our essential services. That’s what the Conservatives are known for, right? That’s why we keep electing them even in times of crisis, right? Right?

If you’re the CEO of an energy company, though, and you’re reading this thinking “but Ryan, without those profits I won’t be able to buy a third superyacht! Also, the part of my brain that feels empathy has completely atrophied!” I’m here to tell you not to worry. If there’s one thing I know about the UK’s approach to the collapse of its essential infrastructure, it’s this: clapping is exactly the same as money.

If being treated like a dying fairy in a pantomime is good enough for our nation’s health service during a global pandemic, then it’s good enough for you, fictional energy CEO I just made up. We can get on our doorsteps with our pots and pans, bang them together like lunatics and shout “I do believe in profits! I do! I do!”

Sure, there are nurses relying on food banks to live right now, but think of all the good that clapping did for them. Like… erm… well, I’ll get back to you on that.

If I sound pissed off, I’m sorry, it’s only because I am. The country is dying of a self-inflicted wound, and the people who pulled the trigger are trying to tell us that there’s nothing to be done about it. Liz Truss, the next likely leader of the UK, has gone on record saying that these energy giants should not be considered “dirty or evil,” as most of us sit staring down the barrel of a cost of living hike that will drastically reduce our quality of life. Although, to be fair to Truss, her standard for “evil” is probably much higher than yours or mine; she is a Tory leadership candidate after all.

Even the people who are usually positioned to ease the burden are at a loss, with Martin Lewis going on a social media hiatus to prepare for the “awful hikes”. When the Money Saving Expert guy has pivoted from “here’s how to save a few quid on your next shop” to “here’s how to not die in your own home”, it might be time to start thinking long and hard about how we arrived here as a country.

I know a lot of Conservative voters like to romanticise the past, but when say they miss the 1970s, I assumed they meant the bell-bottom jeans and racism, not the rolling blackouts. I hope their nostalgia stretches back even further than that, because these companies seem determined to send the poorest among us back to the Stone Age.

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I feel insane for even having to point this out, but rising energy costs are no small thing. We’ve been shoved head first into a 21st century that is entirely dependent on the energy provided by these corporations. If you work from home, a blackout means that a day’s work disappears. If it gets cold in winter and you can’t afford to heat your home, you can’t just throw a log on the fire when you live in a council house. If the energy cap reaches anything close to what is predicted, many of us will have to decide between keeping the lights on and feeding our kids. That isn’t a choice. That’s a hostage situation.

I often wonder what the tipping point will be for the UK, where we collectively decide that enough is enough and we’ll no longer suffer the indignities that are thrust upon us daily by people who are motivated by greed and their own self-interest. I thought it would be when having a master’s degree meant a £21,000 a year job if you were lucky.

I thought it would be during the pandemic, where tens of thousands of my fellow citizens were sacrificed on the altar of an economy that only seems to work for people who already have more than enough. I waited for months while Boris Johnson flouted the law, making his contempt for us clear during Partygate. Maybe this will be the thing that does it. It has to be.

I’ve changed my mind. Don’t clap for the energy companies. Don’t engage in useless displays to distract yourself from what these people are determined to put us through.

Don’t bang your pots and pans. But please, for the love of God, make some noise.