This weekend will see the first serious cold snap as winter approaches spreading across the country, with severe weather warnings being issued for many areas. The colder weather comes on the same day as it was announced that Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, will be investigating a number of energy companies for recent rises in the cost of electricity and gas.
With average household energy bills in excess of £1000 per year, energy company profits have risen from £65 to £90 per household at a time of rising prices. According to Ofgem a 38% rise is unwarranted due to the fact the wholesale price of energy has not increased in the same period. The suspicion is, in the deregulated energy market, companies are price fixing and profiteering.
The rise in the cost of gas will hit the most vulnerable in society the hardest. Every year the elderly especially dread the onset of winter, as it means long, lonely and cold nights spent worrying about the cost of heating the house or even just the room they sleep in. Stories of old people sleeping in their living rooms with a small gas heater to keep them warm are numerous.
The previous Labour government responded to criticism of the elderly being abandoned by issuing a winter fuel allowance to all those over the age of 60. The £400 a year grant was supposed to help the aged, bridge the gap between their modest income and the cost the heating during the winter months. Despite the allowance the number of households in fuel poverty has been on the increase. In 2009 nearly 5 million UK households were estimated to in fuel poverty, 1.7 million were household with older people.
However the vulnerability of the elderly goes beyond just paying the gas bill, and it is more about a feeling of social exclusion that is only exacerbated during winter.
Sadly there is more discussion about the availability of rock salt and the state of the local roads than about the plight of the elderly during winter. Peoples obsessions with getting to work on time, the punctuality or lack of it of public transport and the impending pre-Christmas sales will mask a failing system.
The very individualism and bottom line ethics that drive capitalism are also the cause for the breakdown in its society. Not only does capitalism allow corporations to hike the prices of gas and electricity at will, it also forgets it’s most vulnerable when they need someone the most. Surely there is no better right than for people be kept warm during the winter months, and that the last thing on their minds should be the cost of the heating.
Islam has guaranteed energy as a right of the people by making it a property that belongs to the people. While Islam allows private property and business for profit, energy resources are public properties administered by the state for the welfare of the people. The notion of price hiking during high demand is totally contradictory to the principles of Islam.
Mohammad (saw) said “Muslims are partners in three things: in water, pastures and fire,” reported by Abu Dawud. The fire in the hadith refers to fire based fuels.
Utilities such as gas and electricity are therefore not allowed to be owned by individuals or corporations whose motivation is profit as this could lead to exploitation in the basic necessities that people need to survive – as appears to be happening with the of privitisations of gas, electricity and water.
An Islamic society would also never abandon their elderly like Western society does. How can it be that an elderly man or women sacrifices and saves all year to afford heating during winter, whilst their children live miles away to pursue highly lucrative careers? The rat race has made mice of men who cower away from their responsibility towards their parents, a yearly Christmas card or a weekly phone call does little to mend a heart aching for love and care.
A hadith of the prophet (saw) beautifully details the responsibility of the children upon their parents, he (saw) said
“Let him be humbled into dust; let him be humbled into dust. It was said: Allah’s Messenger, who is he? He said: He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise.” (Sahih Muslim)