'Children will suffer most': The campaign fighting energy injustices
- Credit: Fair Energy Campaign/Ilyas Ayub
When students at Loughborough University were given the challenge of trying to innovate around smart meters, they had a realisation. Namely, the extent of injustices affecting the UK’s energy industry.
From issues relating to energy procurement to misunderstanding bills, they found the current system wasn’t working for many across the country. Out of this realisation was born the Fair Energy Campaign (FEC).
As part of our There With You This Winter campaign, which is raising awareness of the support available to help people get through the cold winter months, this newspaper spoke to the FEC about its projects in London and around the country.
A collaboration between Loughborough University and Citizens UK and funded by the LLDC, the FEC aims to support people to make educated decisions around their energy providers, with the intention of collectively forcing the industry to do better for customers and the planet.
Following a successful first phase to the campaign, which was introduced in 2018, the FEC launched phase two in September this year. It was due to run until April 2022, but didn’t get off to quite the start the team had been expecting.
“When we launched phase two, the current rise in energy prices was not in place," explains Dr Laura Santamaria, the campaign’s project lead. “When we launched, we had a programme of switch days and activities related to switching, from which we had to pivot."
With government guidelines dictating customers should not switch providers, the FEC began exploring other options aligned with its campaign pillars of emergency action, climate and energy education, and policy innovation and advocacy.
This pivot has led to a range of new initiatives being investigated, including encouraging schools and youth services to compete against one another to improve their energy efficiencies, with prizes available for those that perform best.
The FEC also has a group looking into local meter keys, whereby the community can fundraise and aggregate funds to put money on a key from a green energy provider.
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Dr Santamaria flags while not all of these solutions have been implemented, they are indicative of how the FEC is “equipping the communities to cope with the current market”.
Some early successes from the campaign include the onboarding of 26 partner organisations since the start of phase one - including Poplar HARCA, East London Mosque and the Diocese of Stepney - and saving 282 tonnes of carbon between February 1 and June 30 of this year.
Heading deeper into the winter months, Dr Santamaria says the need for additional effort to tackle fuel poverty is becoming increasingly essential.
The reality of this, says Dr Santamaria, is more people will be dragged into hardship.
“What we are expecting from the stakeholder meetings we’ve had so far is that many more people who were not under the poverty line altogether, let alone fuel poverty, will find themselves in that situation this winter. So it will be a new situation for many families, about a 30 per cent increase, which is enormous.
“The children are the ones that suffer the most, because there are lots of cuts of things that are non-essential but actually impact on their wellbeing. That might be days out, or games, or anything."
Reflecting on the campaign so far, Dr Santamaria says like any social action initiative, the experience has been one of both inspiration and dejection at the reality of fuel poverty for so many.
“It’s incredible the interest (from the community), the number of partners we are getting and the interest. This has been a fantastic experience.
“On the other hand, this interest highlights the need and the demands and the urgency to act on this. This also highlights the injustices that we are suffering in the market and how vulnerable people are the ones that pay the price ultimately of any market policy."
For future phases, the FEC is calling out for more partners to take part in the campaign. This includes not only people in the community, but also local businesses, says Dr Santamaria, which are ready “to jump on the back of their social responsibility and help us make a difference”.
Find out more about FEC at https://fairenergycampaign.org/main/