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Power to the parish: Christians in the UK are challenging the government on energy prices

A new Christian campaign could help change the face of UK energy policy.

The following mission statement hardly shouts revolution from the rooftops: “We want to make tackling climate action as normal as the flower rota.”

But a new initiative from the Christian community – The Big Church Switch – could pose the most effective challenge yet to the government’s regressive energy agenda. 

Over the last nine months, the Conservatives have systematically savaged the UK’s raft of green legislation. Insulation schemes have been slashed, taxes on renewable energy have been hiked, and subsidies for solar ended – all in the name of reducing household energy bills.

Numerous groups have called time on this behaviour. Campaigners, private enterprises, and even the government’s own advisors, have argued that investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency will bring down bills, not raise them. But none have made the message stick.

Now the Church has stepped in with its own campaign; one which gives the lie to the notion that energy supply cannot be both clean and cheap

The charities Christian Aid, and Tearfund have used their collective bargaining power to negotiate a deal that not only supplies “100 per cent clean electricity”, but does so cheaper than the average standard-variable tariff currently on offer from the “Big Six” energy providers.

Clergy across the country will be encouraging their congregations to make the change. Though anyone can take advantage of the offer simply by signing up on the campaign website.

“We think western governments are not doing enough on climate change. They think the electorate does not yet support action that will meet the Paris promises,” Ben Niblett from Tearfund told me. “So we need to show them that, yes, people are ready to change their behaviour.”

It is still not the cheapest option available: other, non-green, deals are available for less than the Big Switches’ annual £824 (for a typical household). Some also believe that prioritising energy efficiency is a better way to lower both emissions and costs. “The cheapest energy unit is the unit you don’t use,” says the director of Ebico, a provider with a focus on reducing fuel poverty.

Yet the scheme proves that better balances can be found than those big business is currently offering – and that the government is too often leaving people with little option but to take.

Like the five stones David used to defeat Goliath, here are five ways the scheme could help change energy policy for the better:

1. No more misrepresentation: The government’s insistence on prioritising price does not tally with what the public says it wants. A recent Attitudes Tracking survey from the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed that 78 per cent of the public overwhelmingly support the use of renewable energy.

2. No more subsidy hypocrisy: In early 2015, it was reported that the UK provided 300 times more subsidy (in export credits) to fossil fuels than to renewables. Christian Aid has therefore also commissioned research that will explore the full extent of this trend.

3. No more public deception: Last year the government promised insulation for 1 million homes, while failing to mention that they've overseen an 80% slide in insulation rates.  

4. No more Crony Corporatism: The wholesale price of gas and oil is plummeting, yet the prices passed on by the large energy companies have barely moved. This scheme could make the government's tie-ups with big-energy look much less attractive.

5. No more inertia: It is hoped the campaign will help normalise green energy consumption in the same way that the Church's Fair Trade campaign did for the Fair Trade label. And some hope it will go even further: an officer from Switched On London would like to see private energy companies bypassed altogether, in favour of publically owned initiatives.

Only time will tell how far the campaign's influence will reach. But in Waterloo, London, Revd Giles Goddard believes it will make all the difference to grassroots action. “A lot of my congregation are from Uganda, where we are already seeing the devastation climate change can cause. They might not have much themselves, but they want to help", he explains. "And this scheme will help them to do that. They know that this is about justice.”

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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