Blog: Is it a case of Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay our energy bills?

For many, last week was a week of love, with Valentine’s Day arriving with its usual parade of cheap restaurant deals and single red roses. But for a few people […]

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By Vicky Ellis

For many, last week was a week of love, with Valentine’s Day arriving with its usual parade of cheap restaurant deals and single red roses. But for a few people (and doubtless many more out of the public eye) it was a week of anger. At what? The price of energy bills and spiralling fuel poverty.

Outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change in London on Saturday, protestors held up signs reading ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ – but where did that phrase originate from?

It echoes the slogans of Italian protests at rising food prices in the ’60s and ’70s, which were immortalised in a screamingly funny social farce by Italian playwright Dario Fo, called – funnily enough – ‘Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!’

It’s about a pair of women who nick a load of groceries from the store in the heat of the moment when everyone around them goes crazy. The two have to hide all the random items like tins of dog food from their principled husbands, who come home starving after a day of strikes. Played like a barmy sitcom, it’s hilarious – but there’s a real point behind the laughs.

Will the late noughties and 2010s be remembered in the same way? Could the last five years be known as the era of fuel poverty and soaring bills?

Today we had confirmation from the boss of energy regulator Ofgem, Alistair Buchanan, that energy prices will  inevitably rise as we struggle to fill the energy gap. With coal power stations closing, there’s a race to get gas plants built in time to replace them, while renewables and nuclear power won’t get up to speed for quite a while.

The way things are going, we can well expect plenty more anger as bills go up. Surely there’s no better source material for a political farce than the uber-profits of energy firms and a madcap protest or three? Perhaps the BBC or ITV can have a crack at a hilarious Shameless-style sitcom?

Problem is, there’s nothing too funny about single mums choosing between heating their homes and feeding their kids, or disabled men and women with stiff joints made even stiffer and painful by the cold. Comedy squeezed from their plight would be the blackest humour.