The programme began by dropping in everyone's new favourite euphemism, "fuel poverty." Now, according to my next door neighbour (no, really!), "fuel poverty" can be defined as either:
The state of having to spend more than 10% of disposable income to keep your fleet of private jets running. Cost-cutting measures on imported Cuban cigars and vintage Cognac may be necessary.
- or -
The state of having to spend more than 10% of disposable income on heating so that you don't die of hypothermia. Cost-cutting measures such as eating left-over cat food may be necessary.
So any hard hitting Channel 4 documentary discussing rip-off Britain and its energy cartel would concentrate on the latter of these definitions, no?
They chose, and I quote, "a single mum with three boys in Liverpool, struggling to pay her massive bills."
The household concerned had an annual electricity bill of £1200 a year, or so. The three boys had a television, computer and video game EACH, which they used for an average of 4 hours per day.
So here's the first psychological hit. Who would really care about, or feel sorry for, this particular woman or her offspring? No need to get up off my sofa to campaign against the injustice they're suffering, I think.
Dispatches solution to high energy prices was not, as you might think, to vilify the energy companies for giving away 40% of our energy bills to shareholders as dividends. No, no, no. Although this was mentioned in passing, the main thrust was that the energy companies should hang their heads in shame for living in the twentieth century. Here in the twenty-first century, all homes should have a "smart meter."
With a smart meter, all our problems go away. We can fight off the hypotheria with the warm glow we get from knowing that our energy usage is being monitored at all times and that data is sent back to the energy company at half hourly intervals. This is not another spoke in the great wheel that is the future social profiling uber-database (pdf). Rather it is a useful tool which will allow us, as consumers, to log onto a handy website and see pretty graphs of our energy usage. We can then decide where we can reduce our bills by switching stuff off.