This is my editorial from last week's paper. I've noticed similar pieces a couple of places,in yesterday's Agenda magazine and elsewhere, but this was written last Tuesday.
There are a lot of euphemisms about these days, masking unpleasant news. We’re all familiar with downsizing, resizing and – the most recent word from the world of human resources – ‘rightsizing’. De-energising is the latest one. Coined, seemingly, by the ESB, it refers to what the rest of us call ‘disconnecting’.
Last month, the state-owned energy company ‘de-energised’ 900 households for failing to pay their electricity bills. That’s up from 500 last August.
The news also comes in the same week that the Government floated plans to bump up electricity prices by 5 per cent, adding an estimated €30 per year to household bills as part of a new levy.
€30 doesn’t sound like a lot.
But it is when you remember that this is on top of already well-inflated prices. A 17.5 per cent jump in late 2008, just before the start of the coldest winter most of us can remember, and consistent, small, increases both before and after that.
And it is when you remember that many households have taken substantial pay cuts. Pay cuts have been well documented at this stage, and while some in the private sector – usually those who are still working in their pre-bust jobs – have seen their salaries return to ‘normal’ levels, there are still plenty who haven’t. Public sector workers are still at about 85 per cent of their previous salaries. 13.7 per cent of us are unemployed.
The new levy will come on top of an increase in mortgage rates – the increase varies, but for some customers the hike is as much as €40 per month.
It also comes on top of a 9.2 per cent increase in the costs of education (according to the latest Consumer Price Index figures from the CSO, for July), and an increase in transport costs (2.7 per cent).
In her book The Shock Doctrine, sociologist Naomi Klein discusses how private interests so often triumph over public ones in the wake of disasters. ‘The shock doctrine’ is defined as using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters -- to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.
And what greater shock has this country had since its foundation than the economic crisis? While the Government discusses selling off essential services like Cork Airport and Bord Gáis, we have taken on the liabilities of some of the country’s most reckless private interests.
While economic theory may not seem relevant to your pocket or mine, take a minute to think about it. Why, with no consultation and no opportunity to protest, will we all soon be paying 5 per cent more for electricity, supplied by a company that we own? Why, when we own the banks, will we be paying one or two per cent more interest on our mortgages, while bank staff play golf at our expense? Why, if we can’t manage our bills as it is, and that five per cent makes paying a bill on time every time unachievable, will we be cut off from a service supposedly run by the Government for our benefit?
Naomi Klein has one term for it – the shock doctrine – but we can thank the marketing department at the ESB for coming up with a new and better one. De-energised is a much better term to describe the state of the nation. We’ve lost the energy to fight back.