Friday, December 2

Britons to burn their bills in weekend wave of cost of living protests | protest

UK householders are poised to set fire to their utility bills on Saturday, in a wave of cost of living protests timed to coincide with the jump in gas and electricity unit prices that will cause bills to soar.

In what organizers forecast will be the largest nationwide protests against an economic crunch, which got worse this week with money market chaos and mortgage rate rises looming, dozens of rallies will be staged from Plymouth to Aberdeen, while Postcard and railway workers also strike.

On the day the government’s £150bn 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 bills in Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton and London.

Those wielding lighters include the backers of Don’t Pay UK, a grassroots movement that has received almost 200,000 pledges from householders prepared to cancel their direct debts unless the government does more to protect the poorest families.

The protests are being coordinated between multiple community organizations and trade unions in a bid to maximize impact. They come as night-time temperatures dip into single figures and families debate whether firing up the heating is affordable.

Enough is Enough, a campaign backed by the postal workers’ union, CWU, is staging 28 rallies. Don’t Pay, which is spreading virally through more than 400 WhatsApp groups, is running events in 18 towns and cities, while campaign groups including Insulate Britain, Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion are also taking part.

“People are completely outraged about how severe and immediately material the effects will be on their living standards and how transparently unfair they are,” said Franklin Dawson, 29, a graduate student and part of a Don’t Pay group in Lewisham that has run a street stall in recent weeks. “People are upset about what this is doing to communities around them.”

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But while the chaos in currency and bond markets triggered by Downing Street’s higher-rate income tax cuts has galvanized protest, whether the movement can create political pressure akin to the successful 1990 poll tax protests remains less clear.

Don’t Pay intends to trigger a utility payment strike once a million people sign up, but so far it is only 20% of the way to its target. Some of the organizers are union or leftwing political activists, but the protests are also attracting people who have never attended a rally before. Thirty-three thousand people have offered to help as organizers, one campaign source said.

Paul Bentick, 65, a carpenter from Liverpool, is planning to attend a protest for the first time when he joins the Enough is Enough rally in Liverpool. He said he was financially comfortable but was protesting because “I feel for other people”. He heard about Enough is Enough from a taxi driver.

“The working class gets pushed further and further,” he said. “It’s like Dickens’ days for some people. When they announced the tax cut it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Others, like Dan Manville, 48, a welfare lawyer in Manchester, are veterans of the 2010 anti-austerity protests. He said: “There is such a massive divide developing being stoked by our government that I think it is time to take to the streets.”

But asked about those planning to burn utility bills, he said: “All strength to their arm, but my other half is a bit queasy about not paying our gas bill. If you stop paying … you just don’t know what’s going to come down the line. She’s more than happy for me to wail at the sky though.”

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Facebook pages and Twitter feeds promoting the protests share tips on how not to pay bills without wrecking your credit ratings and articles with headlines such as “Is the UK heading for a winter of civil unrest?”

Michael Chessum, who is involved in Cost of Living Action, a group seeking to draw campaigns together, said the array of protest groups was “what happens when a movement explodes into life”.

“A lot of this is going to be won and lost in the industrial disputes, but you have to build a big social movement, a mass mobilization, too,” he said. “That’s what we’ll see on Saturday.”

At the Wickham Arms in Brockley, south London, on Wednesday evening, a teacher, a pensioner, a social worker and a trainee psychotherapist gathered to plan Saturday’s events for the local Don’t Pay group.

“It’s a frightening prospect for many families in Lewisham,” said Kirstie Paton, who said she has agreed with her husband to cancel their energy direct debit. She stressed the protests were also in solidarity with poorer people who are likely to be hit hardest. She is particularly worried about the more than 4m households using prepayment meters who will have to “self-disconnect” if they cannot afford the tariffs.

As for bill burning, she was coy: “We’ve asked people to bring their bills. What they do with them is up to them.”

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