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UK protesters burn energy bills over cost of living crisis

October 1, 2022

Thousands of people marched in London and other towns and cities against a huge rise in energy prices. Prime Minister Liz Truss faces a crisis of public confidence less than a month after she took office.

Protesters hold up banners at a cost of living rally in London, England on October 1, 2022
After the phrase "Heat or eat" took hold to describe the cost of living crisis, one protest banner in London suggested they should "Eat the Tories" — another name for the ruling Conservative PartyImage: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA/picture alliance

Protests were held in several UK cities on Saturday over a worsening cost of living crisis many people think has been made worse by government policies.

Thousands of demonstrators linked to a variety of issues, including the inflation-focused group "Don't Pay UK" blocked roads and bridges in London.

The group has urged Britons to refuse to pay their gas and electricity bills amid soaring energy prices, partly as a result of the Ukraine war.

Many of the protesters chanted "can't pay, won't pay," and burned mock energy statements — a reference to huge price increases for utilities that came into effect on Saturday.

Energy prices up nearly a third despite cap

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss has capped the rise so that the average household will pay annual energy bills of 2,500 pounds, ($2,792, €2,840) — much lower than some of the worst forecasts.

However, prices will still rise on average by 27% over the next two years, having already spiked several times over the past 12 months.

Other protesters were representing the environmental group Extinction Rebellion and "Just Stop Oil," demanding the UK government halt all new oil and gas extraction.

People take part during a Enough is Enough rally in Birmingham, England, on October 1, 2022.
Protests were held all over the UK, including Birmingham, where the ruling Conservative Party will hold its annual conference from SundayImage: Jacob King/empics/picture alliance

Other protests were held in Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff, as well as the central English city of Birmingham, where the ruling Conservative Party will kick off its annual conference on Sunday.

Tax cuts for wealthy went down like a lead balloon

Truss's government is under intense pressure to U-turn on a plan to cut taxes for wealthy residents, including bankers' bonuses, that sparked public fury and rocked financial markets.

The tax-slashing plan, along with the cost to the government of the energy price cap, will dramatically increase government borrowing.

The new spending prompted the British pound to drop to its lowest ever level against the dollar.

The turmoil forced the Bank of England to make an emergency intervention to stabilize the situation, amid fears of a collapse in UK pension funds.

Truss sticks to spending plan

Truss penned an article in The Sun newspaper on Saturday, where she conceded that the plan had caused "short-term disruption" but vowed to press on with them and handle public money with "an iron grip."

In a piece for the Daily Telegraph, Chancellor (Finance Minister) Kwasi Kwarteng said his ministry would next month unveil a "medium-term fiscal plan" that would set out a path to reducing borrowing, alongside "new fiscal rules and a commitment to spending discipline."

He noted a full forecast from the country's fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), would also accompany the plan on November 23.

The lack of an independent forecast was cited as one of the reasons for the market tumult that followed the so-called "mini-budget" of September 23, where the tax cuts were announced.

'We had no other choice'

"Not all the measures we announced last week will be universally popular. But we had to do something different. We had no other choice," Kwarteng wrote in the newspaper.

Ahead of the conference, a poll has found just over half of Britons think both Truss and Kwarteng should resign — less than a month after they took office.

Support for the mini-budget has been in the single digits in some surveys.

Rating agencies have put the UK on "negative" watch amid concerns the government's fiscal strategy could permanently weaken the UK's debt affordability. 

mm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)