Last Tuesday saw protesters occupying the space outside the entrance to British Gas’s Oxford headquarters.
The demonstration was part of a nationwide campaign to put pressure on the Big 6 Energy Companies, whose high prices are seen to be a major cause of fuel poverty and winter deaths. Similar events were put on in London, Lewes, and Bristol on the day that the UK winter death statistics were published.
The Office for National Statistics reported that there were 31,000 deaths caused by the cold in the UK last year – an increase of 29% compared to the year before. Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said, “It should be a cause of national shame that last year’s cold weather claimed so many lives unnecessarily.”
Oxford based protesters were hoping to share that message. Fuel Poverty Action Oxford, the protest group that led the demonstration, insisted, “Millions of us are having to choose between feeding our children and feeding our gas and electricity meters, which force the poor to pay more for energy and cut off our heating when we can’t pay.”
Student participation numbers are unknown, although members of Oxford University have been active on behalf of the cause for several months now.
A member of Oxford University Labour Club said, “I’m sure there are lot of people here who feel passionately about the issue. It’s one of those few cases that is truly a matter of life or death – and instead of helping the government is just making things worse.”
Npower, one of the energy companies that the protests were aimed against, argued too that the government was to blame. Green taxes are supposedly making it increasingly difficult for them to offer affordable energy.
Demonstrators were not happy with this explanation. “The real problems are the big six’s profiteering and the rising cost of polluting energy like oil and gas. Energy is a basic need, too important to be left in the hands of profit-hungry private companies”, said Fuel Poverty Action’s James Grainger.
A first year PPE student told Cherwell, “It’s great that the people of Oxford are making an effort. It’s all about awareness and putting politicians and those in positions to help under pressure. We should be doing more as a university to help.”
The campaigners, who claim that “This is a long-term fight”, have more events planned for the near future.