As the UK is groaning under a cost of living crisis not seen in four decades, more than 100,000 of its citizens—and counting—are taking action. Should 900,000 others join them in the grassroots movement Don’t Pay UK by October 1st, they will leave their energy bills unpaid.
On its website, the collective demands a “reduction of energy bills to an affordable level.” As leverage, it hopes to recruit one million people in total before “the government goes ahead with another massive hike on October 1st.” The idea, it says, is derived from similar protests during the late 80s and 90s, when then PM Margaret Thatcher levied the Poll Tax. More than 17 million Britons subsequently revolted, which forced her government to reverse its “harshest measures.”
Should even “a fraction of those of us who are paying by direct debit stop our payments, it will be enough to put energy companies in serious trouble … We want to bring them to the table and force them to end this crisis” announced Don’t Pay UK in a statement.
Yet, the collective stresses to only go ahead with their plan if a “critical mass of people” join them in their pledge to refuse to pay up starting October 1st. “One million sounds like a lot, but millions more will already be thinking about whether they’ll be able to pay come winter and afford the other things they need to survive for them and their families,” it continues, concluding that “it can only work if we believe in each other and show the powers that be that we would not stand for being treated as cash cows.”
Protesters are expected to eventually take to the streets but, for now, they are amassing support via social media and showing their presence offline by handing out leaflets and stickers while organizing locally.
In a Tuesday appearance on British talk radio station LBC, one of its spokesmen, Glyn Robbins, expressed disgust with the “absolutely outrageous and life-threatening” behavior of “price-fixing” energy “cartels:”
At least on the surface, Robbins’ cause and that of many others is gaining traction in the higher echelons of power. Earlier, UN Secretary-General António Guterres had called for the “excessive profits” of energy companies to be taxed, and that the funds should go towards supporting the “most vulnerable people through these difficult times.”
Electricity prices have been skyrocketing on the British Isles, which caused many Britons to go into debt and even contemplate closure of their businesses. With the cost of gas factored in, the average UK household’s annual energy bill jumped from £1,400 in October 2021 to £2,000 in May (after the government removed the price cap), while another sharp increase is expected in October 2022.
A previous forecast, by energy regulator Ofgem, said this could amount to £2,800, but the latest, by consultancy Cornwall Insight, estimates it at a shocking £4,266.
Initiatives such as Don’t Pay UK are also a response to spiraling inflation, which is expected to reach 13% and has left the British poorer today than at any other time in the last three decades. Although the Bank of England has raised interest rates to their highest level in 14 years, the risk of recession is growing daily. Deputy director Dave Ramsden said on Tuesday that it would probably need to raise these even further.
Meanwhile, outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson has recognised these “challenging times” but has ruled out taking immediate steps to lessen the crisis’ severity. Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse said the government had already and is continuing to do work on cost-of-living problems, and that his job is “to make sure that when the new prime minister arrives, the plan is in place for them [sic] to put their foot on the accelerator.”
Almost immediately, Labour spotted an opportunity to offer an alternative to the Tories—and their seemingly listless response. Shadow education secretary Bridget Philipson said her party had been “consistently ahead of the government” on the issue and that the country would hear “very, very soon” from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer about new proposals.