“The crisis we are facing needs urgent and radical action from Westminster”

Monday August 29th 2022


Lorna Slater, Scottish Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lothian MSP and Scottish Greens co-leader writes her monthly column for Midlothian View.

The crisis we are facing needs urgent and radical action from Westminster.

We live in what should be one or the wealthiest societies and ages that there has ever been. Yet, all across the UK, there are millions of people being forced to choose between starving or freezing.

Last week’s decision to increase the energy price-tag to £3549 will consign millions of families to a long, cold winter. It is not just a failure of the regulatory system and Ofgem, it is a failure of the UK government, which has shown a shameful disregard for the pain and destitution that many are facing.

It could be about to get far worse. Analysts at Auxilione predict that bills could reach £6500 in the months ahead, while CitiBank warns that inflation could hit 18%.

A recent study by the University of York found that, without urgent action, two thirds of all Scottish households could be plunged into fuel poverty in the months ahead.

The way that they are talked about, these numbers can sometimes feel abstract, but behind every one of them there are hundreds of thousands of real people and families who are already struggling and suffering.

Those are the people whose voices and experiences need to be at the heart of our response.

In Scotland we are trying to do everything we can within the restrictions and limitations of the Scottish budget. This week the First Minister brought leaders of the largest energy companies together for a summit to focus on the crisis we face.

Over the next two weeks, the Scottish Government and the energy companies will work together to agree a package of measures that can meaningfully help to mitigate the hammer blow that is about to come from the imminent price cap rise.

This will build on cost of living support that we are already providing via the rollout of the living wage to Scottish Government contractors, free bus travel for everyone under 22, the increase of benefits we have power over in line with inflation and, perhaps most vitally, the Scottish Child Payment.

These measures are all helping household budgets. The child payment alone is worth over £1000 per year for every eligible child and is already benefiting 2400 households in Midlothian.

I am proud that we introduced these measures, particularly at a time when Westminster was cutting Universal Credit and hammering many of the most vulnerable in our society.

However, when it comes to the bills themselves, there is only one level of government that has the powers to meaningfully cut them, and that is the UK government.

When it comes to freezing or reducing the cap itself, or to raising minimum wage or considering public ownership of energy, these steps can only be taken from Westminster. We simply do not have the powers and Westminster will not give us the resources.

With Boris Johnson on his way out, it is clear that he has no interest in helping. The economic landscape that he is passing on to his successor is a dire one. It will need far greater and more urgent action than he has been prepared to give it.

We are at a pivotal moment, and the impact of decisions made today will be felt for years to come. If bills are allowed to reach the levels that are being quoted then it will mean even greater suffering and deprivation. It will be a social emergency beyond anything we have seen for generations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Even at this late stage, Boris Johnson and his colleagues still have the power and resources to provide the help and support that is needed to keep the lights on and stop people from having to choose between freezing and starving.

Every day of inaction from Downing Street is not just an abdication of responsibility, it is also an active choice that will have terrible consequences.

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