A group of boater activists, who led a flotilla of boats from Braunston to London on a 15-day journey south, handed a petition with 5,490 signatures into 10 Downing Street on 19th June 2023. The petition, started by the NBTA, calls on the government to reverse the 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 promised to “every household” in the UK last May.
The boats moored up in Paddington Basin around 1pm on Saturday June 10th, and were greeted by a group of supportive boaters in the area, many of whom have also been campaigning for the Government to follow through on their promise to provide financial support during the spiraling cost-of-living and fuel crises in the UK.
On Monday 19th June at 1.30pm, the boaters – led by flotilla organiser and retired teacher, Anita Weedy – handed in their petition to 10 Downing Street, over a year after the UK government pledged to support ‘every household’ with their energy bills. Despite this pledge, itinerant boaters and hundreds of others without fixed addresses have received nothing, whilst second home owners have been handed hundreds of millions of taxpayers pounds after the government automatically paid multiple Energy Bills Support Scheme to them, even though each household is only entitled to receive the grant once. Anita Weedy said:
“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.
I’m a contributing member of this country. I’ve worked hard and paid my taxes and yet now, because of the fact I’ve chosen to live on a boat, suddenly I don’t count as a household any more? I’m sick of being lied to and messed around by this government, and I fully intend to hold them to the promises that they’ve made.”
The increased cost of living has placed an immense financial burden on many people in the country. Many itinerant liveaboard 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 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 and petition hand-in were supported by the NBTA, who have been campaigning for the inclusion of itinerant and off-grid communities since the grants were first announced in May 2022. NBTA Chair Pamela Smith said:
“The fact that boaters have travelled half-way across the country to deliver this petition shows the strength of feeling that continues to animate our community on this issue. The government may think that by ignoring us we’ll simply go away, but they’re wrong.
Not only has the failure to include boaters and others without a fixed address led to immense hardship this winter gone, it’s contributed to a real and enduring loss of boaters’ trust in the government to deliver for them on a basic level. Boaters will continue to make their anger about this rank unfairness known to their representatives, whether via legal proceedings, continuing to lobby their MPs or when they next have the opportunity to go to the polls”.