Now and again as a journalist you receive an unsolicited PR email which makes you angry, but it’s very rare – depending on your temperament – that you will receive one that makes you shout at your screen in barely coherent rage. (Apart from anything else, in this job you should always strive to be coherent).
However, just before Christmas my face turned paler than a Frosty the Snowman’s as I received a charming missive, deftly re-framing the winter deaths of people in fuel poverty as a grand new business opportunity.
This communiqué pointed out that in Cornwall last year the number of winter deaths rose 240 per cent to nearly 700, yet – and here I chuckled wryly to myself – it was probably because those silly buggers hadn’t thought to switch to oil-powered heating.
You see, if instead of concentrating on whether they should buy enough food not to starve or put a few more quid in the meter, they had put their time and energy – which would admittedly have likely been at a low ebb – into changing energy suppliers, those guys would have been toasty in no time.
Now not only is this message from OFTEC, the heating oil trade body, crassly capitalising on the literal deaths of actual human beings, but it also offers ‘advice’ which is divorced from the reality of many of the people who are struggling with their heating.
Imagine the kind of mind that sits in its office and goes: “You know what would be a clever marketing ploy? Just writing about the people who died because they didn’t use our services. That’ll get the quids rolling in.”
It’s probably the same kind of mind advising people who can’t afford to heath their homes on the best temperature to keep their main rooms at, or telling them to ‘turn off radiators in rooms you’re not using.’
If someone’s literally on the point of catching a fatal bug because their house is too cold, do you not think they might have considered which radiators they can afford to turn on and off?
And if someone’s pinching the pennies by only heating their house for one or two hours a day, do you think ‘upgrading their heating controls’ is top of their priority list?
The email signs off with a cheery note, that the “fortunate” 40,000 Cornish households that enjoy fuel oil heating can afford to keep it turned on for longer, while advising people not to turn their heating down too low as it “could be putting [your] health at risk.” Just one more cheeky ‘give us your shillings or you’ll die’ message to make sure you get the point.
I know there are so many crass, unpleasant, and nakedly profiteering press releases sent every day – among the uninteresting, uninspired, and downright nonsensical – but this has to be the nadir for me.
Sadly, as we seem to be entering an era where the life of many is increasingly cheap, and if it’s not cheap then someone will make a pretty penny on it, I foresee more of these coming down the pipeline soon.