People burn energy bills at protests before Conservative Party conference

Energy bills were burned on Saturday in a wave of cost-of-living protests against the jump in gas and electricity unit prices – less than 24 hours before the Conservative party conference kicked off in Birmingham.

Don't Pay protestors outside the Library of Birmingham. Photo: Rhi Storer
Don't Pay protestors outside the Library of Birmingham. Photo: Rhi Storer

On the day the Government’s £150 billion energy price guarantee came into effect, which will see the average household bill expected to cost £2,500 a year, up from £1,971, people torched their bills in cities across the country, including in the second city.

Protests were spearheaded by Don’t Pay UK, a grassroots movement that has received almost 200,000 pledges from householders prepared to cancel their direct debits unless the Government does more to protect the poorest families.

Edit: Attributed a different quote.

Energy bills are set to be burned today in a wave of cost-of-living protests against the jump in gas and electricity unit prices – less than 24 hours before the Conservative party conference kicks off in Birmingham.

On the day the government’s £150 billion energy price guarantee comes into effect, which allows average household bills to hit £2,500 a year, up from £1,971, people are expected to torch their bills in cities across the country, including in the second city.

Protests are spearheaded by Don’t Pay UK, a grassroots movement that has received almost 200,000 pledges from householders prepared to cancel their direct debits unless the government does more to protect the poorest families.

Outside New Street station, multiple community organisations and trade unions joined together in a bid to maximise impact. Brummies here have a double reason to protest, with the Conservative party conference a stone’s throw away and the West Midlands suffering from the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country.

People here on the walk between New Street station and Centenary Square were viscerally angry.

“I have two retired parents who are going to struggle this winter,” says Michael Lynch, a chef, who attended the rally. “I’ve seen reduced customers, wages go down, and food prices rise because of inflation. It’s totally wrong.”

Others, like Oliver Arnold-Richards, a member of Extinction Rebellion say they are financially comfortable but were protesting because “I feel for other people”.

“I am here today because we need to use every avenue possible to resist this government, which is openly waging war on working people.

“We have been hit by mortgage plus energy bill rises but this crisis will inflict real suffering on so many more people, so we must all take action together.”

The Facebook post for Birmingham’s Enough is Enough rally said it was “time to show the CEOs and the Tories that we are serious”.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I am a care worker and I work all the hours I can get to feed my family. I see others like barristers on strike and it’s made me question this pressure being put on our society.

“I’m not part of Labour. But I think many people are asking why is the government not doing anything about the crisis we are all facing. It shouldn’t be a battle.”

Joe and Charlotte came to the protests with a Simpsons-themed placard. “Our energy bills have doubled,” says Joe, who did not want to give his last name. “We are struggling to get by. I’m fed up of our government taking us for a ride.

“We’ve had to put our smart meter down so we can’t read the numbers,” said Charlotte, who also did not want to give her last time. “It’s depressing really.”

Charlotte works as a teacher for children with learning disabilities. “The conversations I have with parents is truly horrible. They’re struggling unnecessarily for something the Conservatives could easily reverse.”

Katie, who burned a symbolic energy bill in front of the Library of Birmingham, said: “A lot of this is going to be won and lost in the industrial disputes, but you have to build a big social movement. That’s what Don’t Pay is about.

“We have to do something, otherwise what is the point? Bills are going up massively, it’s time for action.”

Enough is Enough, backed by the Communication Workers Union, held a rally last week in Digbeth to packed crowds. The RMT, Insulate Britain, Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion also gathered.

Whether the movement can create political pressure similar to the Poll Tax riots remains unclear. Don’t Pay intends to trigger a utility payment strike once a million people sign up, but so far only 20% of signatures have been recorded to hit its target.

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