We need more than individualised solutions to the energy crisis!

Martin Lewis has been arguing since at least March 2022 that energy prices in the UK have increased so rapidly in such a short space of time that millions of people will be unable to manage the increasing costs simply by instigating energy-saving measures at the level of the individual household.

His concern is justified, based on a recent government report on the energy market – which shows that energy prices for the average household doubled between summer 2021 and 2022.

You can read the report here: full report on the energy crises.

Martin Lewis himself has been a long term proponent of helping people to help themselves to save money by shopping around for better energy deals and switching provider, or by doing any or all of the following:

  • Buy a smart thermostat
  • Turn the thermostat down by one or two degrees
  • Insulate the roof
  • Buy more energy efficient appliances
  • Wash clothes on a cooler temperature.

The list above is taken from Money Saving Super Market, and all of these suggestions are sensible and it’s difficult to argue against them, but the point Martin Lewis has been making more and more forcibly for several months now is that low income households (of which there are millions) also need government support to either meet the increasing cost of gas and electricity bills.

The simple fact is that even if you do ALL of the above (some of which have an investment cost) you might reduce your energy consumption by 20-30% but that doesn’t offset price rises which have recently doubled and are set to double again in 2023, so a 200% increase in prices!

In Sociological terms all of the above are what Zygmunt Bauman would call ‘individualised solutions to social problems‘, which is the norm in the age of neoliberalism which believes in less government intervention in the market and leaving individuals to fend for themselves.

In this case we have a socio-economic problem – energy prices doubling in a very short space of time and rather than the government stepping in with a range of measures to tackle this they have, for most of 2022, left individuals to fend for themselves.

The Energy Cap – Something of a social solution but still not enough…?

It is probably testimony to how serious the energy crises is that Liz Truss recently announced an energy cap of £2500 (weighted for the average household) – which is a form of a political (public) solution to this social problem.

However, this is quite a weak response – households are expected to soak up ALL of the increase in prices so far, and then this only protects households from some (not all) of the anticipated price rises to come into 2023.

The government could do far more… for example a massive investment into insulating households and tax breaks or even subsidies for households installing solar panels and energy efficient appliances.

Meanwhile at the public level we could be investing in green-energy and training people to research and install such systems, given that there is likely to be increased demand for this sort of thing going forwards.

However the government has opted for allowing companies the right to frack and drill for gas around the United Kingdom and has chosen nuclear as its investment option – the problem with the later especially being that it will be the future generations that foot the bill for securing the legacy of toxic radioactive waste that goes along with nuclear.

Ironically this seams to be a case of the government investing in energy-tech which will create further public problems in the future, when there will even less capacity for a public solution to even more dramatic social problems, at least if the advance of neoliberalism persists!

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