A flotilla of boaters will leave Braunston today, heading towards London, in protest at the continued exclusion of itinerant boat dwellers, and others without a fixed address, from receiving the £400 Government Energy Bills Support Scheme (EBSS) and £200 Alternative Fuels grants, which the Government claims are paid to “every household” in the UK.
The Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (ESNZ) has cited concerns about fraud for those who cannot prove a fixed address to explain the exclusion of itinerant communities from the scheme. However, in Autumn 2022 the Government automatically paid multiple EBSS grants to second home owners for each of their homes at a cost of hundreds of millions to the taxpayer – with no scrutiny whatsoever – even though each household is only entitled to receive the grant once.
The flotilla is organised by Anita Weedy, a retired teacher who lives aboard her electric narrowboat Watt Way and navigates widely around the UK’s canal system as an itinerant boater. Anita says:
“Our treatment by the government smacks of unfairness, pure and simple. The country was told that every household would receive support, and that nobody would be left out in the cold – yet that’s turned out to be utter nonsense. Tens of thousands of us have been excluded for completely arbitrary reasons, with some facing an absolutely brutal winter with no support as a result.”
The increased cost of living has placed an immense financial burden on many people in the country. Many itinerant boaters are on low incomes or pensions, with 48% earning less than £20k per year. With rampant inflation, stagnating wages and the cost of fuel and food skyrocketing, many are struggling to make ends meet. Most itinerant boaters – who move their boats around Britain’s inland waterways without a permanent ‘home mooring’, changing location roughly every 14 days – rely on diesel engines to navigate, bottled LPG gas to cook and heat water, and other forms of fuel to heat and light their boats. Although winter is over, many boaters have found their finances dramatically impacted by the cost of fuel to stay warm during the cold months – and with no government assistance, some are still struggling to recover.
The flotilla is supported by the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA), who have been campaigning for the inclusion of itinerant and off-grid communities since the grants were first announced in May last year. NBTA Chair Pamela Smith said:
“The Energy Bills Support Scheme was announced almost a year ago, supposedly to mitigate the worst excesses of the cost-of-living and fuel crises for every single household, and yet after months of campaigns and appeals by itinerant communities for inclusion, the Government has not only failed to deliver this much-needed support to boaters but has specifically excluded us from the payments.
Many boat dwellers are still facing massive financial hardships to keep up with the rising cost of fuel. It is deeply unfair, with our community being left out of what was supposed to be a universal scheme while second home owners benefited twice over”.
The flotilla will travel for 3 hours per day over the coming weeks, down the Grand Union canal, handing out leaflets and gathering petition signatures as they go. They begin at Braunston – a village in Northamptonshire where, exactly a century ago, the largest ever canal boat workers strike took place.
National Bargee Travellers Association
Images: NBTA, feature image: boats covered in snow on the Shropshire Union Canal in December 2022