Poverty bugs me …

This film scared me. Not because it’s about insects: I make ladders from toilet paper to help spiders escape from the bath and feel guilty if I harm a wasp.

No, it scared me because Observer food critic Jay Rayner says, “You cannot underestimate what could happen to food prices across the developed world in the next ten to twenty years. There is every evidence that they could double or triple and, when things like that start happening, a lot of other considerations will go by the by.”

The film considers that, as the world’s population is now at seven billion with the birth of Baby Nargis in India, bugs will be seen as a potential solution to future food shortages.

This means as the 1% continue to tuck into venison steaks the rest of us will be eating famine food so I’m glad the Occupy London lot have proven they are genuinely sleeping in those tents, fighting for the 99% who face a future of feasting on bugs. The Telegraph, The Mail, The Express and The Times sadly decided that the story here was empty tents – not the reason the people are protesting.

Not a feast of locusts

Like Louise Mensch on Have I Got News For You, they choose to miss the point completely and dismiss the righteous anger of us hungry, cold workers as an indulgent pretence.

The 1% will be tucking into traditional food items, like meat and veg, and sitting in the warm as we huddle together, chewing on cockroaches, scratching droplets of ice from our noses, wondering if we should defrost and eat our pets.

My description is absurd but I choose it carefully because poverty IS absurd. As I wrap up in a blanket, and wonder whether I should put on the halogen heater or have another hot drink to warm up, I know £2.50 a week is being added to a gas meter I can’t afford to top up. I know that whenever I do have some money to put on it 70% of it is taken for the debt. Seventy per cent. I could almost be reduced to using a dog’s dick in this sentence.

NPower – a company that has today been fined £2m by Ofgem for mis-handling complaints – tell me they can “remove the meter free of charge as a gesture of goodwill on this occasion.”

This is wonderful news. Thrilling. That is, until they point out:

“Unfortunetely [sic], we do not bill monthly – either quarterly for customers who pay on reciept [sic] of bill or quarterly Direct Debit; else 6 monthly for monthly Direct Debit customers.  My concern with changing your meter for a non-prepayment type without having any monthly payment agreed is that your gas usage would exceed your income and you would end up in arears [sic].  I’m sure you will agree this is not a situation either of us want.”

The executive responding to my emails seems to miss the fact that I’m already in arrears, adding:

“With regard to your statement that you cannot pay £34.00 each month for gas, our records show that this reflects your average usage and if you used your gas to a simlar [sic] degree with a non-prepayment meter, this is how much you would need to budget each month […] we must have a monthly Direct Debit in place.”

Unemployment as muse

The luxury of £34.00 per month was enjoyed while I was working but now I’m lucky to be able to afford the £2.50 per week surcharges. This, however, would seem irrelevant.

The complaints to Ofgem which NPower has mis-handled include many about estimating gas usage and keeping hold of customers’ money, according to Which.

The executive continues:

“Unfortunetely [sic], the standing charges on your pre-payment meter cannot be waived as these form part of your tariff. Due to your income, you may be eligable [sic] for help under our Warm Home Discount scheme where you could recieve [sic] £120 on your electricity bill.”

Excellent news! I called them. I’m not eligible. He added:

“I share your concern regarding fuel poverty and npower have had various programmes in place over the years to help such customers.

“As with all businesses npower looks to return an operating profit, however we look to offer the most competative [sic] pricing and offer help to our most vulnerable customers.”

In August it was reported that NPower doubled its profits while, at the same time, hiking its prices. The German-owned company banked £306 million in the first six months of 2011 despite us sitting in the cold saving money by not using energy.

Perhaps this is because they charge millions of customers £2.50 per week whether we use the service or not. Rest assured their shareholders won’t be worrying about whether to put the heating on or if they should have an expensive hot bath.

It turned out I’m not vulnerable enough to get any help and so entitled only to apply for an Energy Fund grant in the hope that my bill will be waived or reduced. No guaranteed help for us at all, really.

For information on the images used in this post click here.

2 thoughts on “Poverty bugs me …

  1. There’s a worrying point of view in our society of late that says poverty is something that happens to people who don’t try rather than something that often happens to people as a consequence of a set of circumstances.
    I do wonder what happens in the case of NPower being fined 2 million. Does that fine ultimately get recovered from ordinary customer bills?
    There are energy companies out there who neither charge standing charges or higher rates for pre pay meters but as I’ve said before that’s cold comfort as switching to them is impossible when you already owe your existing company money. They’ve got us by the short and curlies. Even more so in the case of vulnerable customers experiencing reduced circumstances as they choices are vastly reduced.

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