Credit: Luke Chafer

Heating or eating… in the fifth richest economy in the world?

By Ben Short

The cost of living crisis is affecting us all. We speak to UofG students about the impact of rising energy bills on their standard of living.

The cost of living crisis has engulfed the bulk of the population across the UK, with many families and students faced with the decision of either heating their homes or having dinner. Bills have increased by 27% in October 2022, and a further 20% in April 2023, which has been reduced under the Government’s Energy Bill Support Scheme – preventing October’s 80% rise predicted by Ofgem. Many students not only fear how they’ll get through this winter but the next too, with bills estimated to cap at £3,000 in winter 2023.

On 8 September 2022, the Conservative government introduced the Energy Bill Support Scheme as a means to tackle the energy price hikes from 1st October to the 31st March amounting to £400, capping typical annual consumption at £2,500. Eligibility is universal and the discount is automatically processed onto each bill – whether that be monthly direct debit or a quarterly bill. In the case of prepayment metres, both smart and traditional models, the discount will be applied in the first week of each month.

The £400 is divided into five monthly subsidies of £66 in October and November and £67 in December, January, February, and March. An element of the policy which was particularly prevalent in discussions with university students were rental properties where utility costs are included in the payment. The scheme outlines that landlords ‘may’ include the fixed energy costs within the rent charge; however the deregulation of the private rental sector has led to many students being ripped off.

Speaking with a student renting a flat in the Woodlands area of the West End, he found that the landlord had not applied the subsidy to the monthly ‘all inclusive’ rent charge. In conversation he said: “I’ve sent multiple texts to my landlord; but so far I’ve not heard a word. Even back-and-forth emailing with the letting agency has been of no help; they’ve said there is nothing much they can do.” On the discussion of usage, he said: “I have a gas cooker, thankfully. If it was electric, I would be pretty scared to cook my meals. I usually put the bedroom heater on for 15 minutes before sleeping and for 10 [minutes] in the morning.” In a rather jovial, but concerned tone, he says: “And that’s me working at the weekends to enable such a privilege. I don’t know what I would do without that.” The coalition of student crises – housing and energy – has created a stalemate situation, with the average rental price for a one bedroom reaching £786 – an increase of 14.1% in a year. He comments: “I can’t exactly leave. Landlords are just whacking up rents everywhere in Glasgow as demand has skyrocketed. I’m stuck under already extortionate rent, rising energy prices, unaccountable landlordism and scarce cheaper alternatives.” 

Another student living in the Southside of Glasgow has voiced similar greivances. Having moved into the Kinning Park area in September, she found that her October bill was far higher than in September. Speaking to The Glasgow Guardian, she said: “I was barely using electricity, so when I saw a twofold hike in prices I requested a breakdown from my landlord. No reply was made. So I withheld paying my monthly rent, and soon enough they were quick to demand the money.”

When another request was made, she said: “The landlord refused to show me the breakdown and insisted that it’s simply due to the energy crisis, and that it cannot be brought down. He was adamant that the figure was correct and that the scheme discount had been applied. I just thought to myself: I need to just go along with it and pay; the threat of eviction is always lingering.” Reiterating the two-fold crises at play, she declared as if devoid of hope: “Myself and many other students I’ve spoken to are seriously struggling. I feel failed, both by the University and their handling of the housing crisis and by this Tory government who have presided over the mass privatisation of our energy.

Staying with my girlfriend in Partick, we pay utilities separately and received our first energy bill in early December. We were nothing short of astonished to pay close to 3 figures each for the month, despite having the Government discount applied and being able to count on one hand the amount of times the heating had been put on. For me, this is a clear indictment that the privatisation and profiteering of utilities is a broken system. While the scheme helps to blunt the edge of a sharp, cold winter, it serves as a facade for the failures that come from protecting shareholder payouts.

While the media narrative of the global energy bill increase as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is true, perhaps the most significant pertains to the UK. Under France’s Finance Act of 2022, President Macron introduced a 4% price cap for energy bills, due to the state owning the energy company EDF. Profits have been taxed to generate around £7 billion, which has been used to subsidise bills. With the EDF being an energy provider to the UK, the profits gained from major energy price hikes here are essentially used to subsidise French energy bills, keeping them far lower. 

It is not so much an issue of global forces; it is an issue of privatisation versus nationalisation. As former Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn said: “Energy, like all other public utilities and infrastructure, should be publicly owned, whether that’s at a community, municipal or national level.”


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Margaret McLaughlan

Great article.