Last week I rang up our energy company and asked them to move us onto a different tariff. The call took 15 minutes and the nice lady I spoke to said she thought it would probably save us 50 quid over the course of a year. Boom. I’m happy with a phone call that saves money at an equivalent £200 hourly rate.
Afterwards I was thinking about our previous flat, when we were on a prepay meter. These things are a complete pain. You have to top your token up at a local shop, take the token home, stick it into the machine to load the credit in and hope you remember to top up again before the credit runs out. Because when it does, everything in the flat switches off. To make matters worse, the electricity costs more than paying by direct debit.
The irony is that there are a lot of poor people in Tower Hamlets who use these meters. They have to because council housing tends to be built with them pre-installed. Leading to the apparently unjust situation where poor people end up paying more for their electricity. But why do these gadgets exist? Because poor people are more likely to run into debt. Unlike other commodities like, say, groceries, the electricity that a poor person uses is exactly the same as a rich person. Utility companies have no way to offer price differentiation like supermarkets can. You can’t buy economy, no-brand electricity. It comes at 50 Hz and that’s it. So people with a low income have no way of economising the way they can by buying cheap bread. They can’t just opt out of using it. And the utility companies need a way of selling their product to people who are likely to be out of money when the time comes to pay the bill.
The question we’re left with is - who should bear the costs associated with selling an essential product to a riskier group of customers? The utility companies? Society as a whole (i.e. via government subsidy)? Or the poor themselves? Currently we’ve chosen the latter option, making it just one more thing making life more expensive for those who can least afford it.
But where there is difference, it shall be denied; where there is morality, it shall be marginalised; where there is complementarity, it will be called bigotry…And now these three remain: tolerance, diversity and equality. But the greatest of these is equality.