Climate crisis and fuel poverty are a dangerous link - Lorna Slater

The gas price hike couldn’t come at a worse time for stretched families and households across the country. Inflation is soaring and so are prices, with the cost of food, clothes and electricity escalating.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 8th February 2022, 7:00 am
Lorna Slater
Lorna Slater

Across Edinburgh and beyond, people on low incomes are already being hit by a regressive rise in national insurance and flat-lining salaries. Many are being punished further by the UK government’s disastrous Brexit and its brutal cuts to Universal Credit.

The choice between heating and eating is already a real and horrific one for far too many. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns that low-income single-adult households could soon be forced to spend 54% of their income on gas and electricity.

This perfect storm of austerity and cuts is one reason why the Bank of England has said we are facing the biggest fall in living standards since records began 30 years ago.

If we are to cut the cost of energy, then we must end our dependence on gas and break that relationship between gas prices and fuel bills.

One of the biggest long-term causes of the hike was former Prime Minister, David Cameron’s decision to cut energy-efficiency subsidies. This has led to an overreliance on gas to heat homes and a failure to properly invest in renewable energy and home insulation.

Analysis from Carbon Brief shows that this decision added £2.5 billion to UK energy bills. That is why the need to lower our climate emissions goes hand in hand with tackling fuel poverty.

With Greens in Government we are using the powers we have to ease the crisis. In April we are doubling the Scottish Child Payment, which will be worth an additional £500 a year for every child. Similarly, last week saw the introduction of free bus travel for everyone aged 21 or under, which will save some families hundreds of pounds while helping to reduce pollution and cut carbon emissions.

We are also working to address our dependence on fossil fuels. Over the course of this Parliamentary term we are doubling onshore wind capacity, boosting marine energy and investing at least £1.8 billion in net zero buildings and warmer homes. These are important changes that will create thousands of jobs while making a big difference to our environment and our economy.

However, the reality is that under the current devolution settlement it is only the UK Government that has the power and resources to act in the face of the latest obscene energy price rises.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has said he will provide additional funds for the Scottish Government, every penny of which will be used to offset the cost of living crisis that has been inflicted. But, what he is offering does not go far enough.

Nor do the UK government’s proposals to offer loans to cover part of the costs or to spread the costs over future bills is too little too late, especially when there is no certainty about future prices.

People are suffering, and there is a responsibility on all levels of government to help. Here in Scotland, we recognise the scale of the crisis and are taking action, it is vital that Downing Street does the same. There is no time to waste.

If you would like advice on how rising energy prices may impact you, or how you can lower your bills, then visit HomeEnergyScotland.org.

Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity