Cost of living crisis: Nicola Sturgeon risks short-changing people who need cold-weather payments just so Scotland can have a different system – Susan Dalgety

If 2022 was the year of soaring energy prices, the next 12 months promise to be even worse.
A change to cold-weather payments could see people in Scotland receive less money (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)A change to cold-weather payments could see people in Scotland receive less money (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
A change to cold-weather payments could see people in Scotland receive less money (Picture: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Little wonder the post-Christmas sales have been quieter than expected. None of us have any spare cash to spend on luxuries. Every last penny goes towards our gas and electricity bills. In the unlikely event, there is anything left over at the end of the month, we are investing in essentials like hot water bottles and heated throws.

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I can’t begin to imagine how people on the lowest incomes are getting through the winter. And a recent decision by the Scottish Government to ditch the UK-wide Cold Weather Payment in favour of a new Scottish scheme threatens to make things worse for those who need the most help.

Until this year, Scotland’s most vulnerable households received £25 every time the temperature fell below zero degrees Celsius for seven days in a row. And they received the money within a fortnight. The Scottish Government has replaced this long-standing, easy-to-understand scheme with the new Winter Heating Payment. This is a fixed £100 sum, and is not be payable until next month, at the earliest.

This means that struggling pensioners and people with disabilities will not get help in the immediate aftermath of a cold spell. Instead, they will have to wait until February. And if there are five or six weeks of cold weather this winter, they will get less than their counterparts in England and Wales. The new Scottish system is a fixed lump sum, regardless of how often the temperature plummets below freezing.

The Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre, in a piece of research commissioned by Scottish Labour, reckons that more than 65,000 Scots would have lost out last year if the new scheme had been in place. Labour’s social justice and social security spokesperson, Pam Duncan-Glancy, has branded the changes as “disastrous” and called on the Scottish Government to put in place an emergency plan for those households who could miss out on much-needed cash. And leading charity Energy Action Scotland says the situation is “potentially catastrophic”.

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But what are the chances of the Scottish Government changing its mind and reverting to the old system? I think we all know the answer to that one… no chance. The existing Cold Weather Payment scheme has worked well for nearly 40 years. And so what if it is a UK-wide system? Not everything conceived by the Westminster government is bad, just as not every policy dreamt up by SNP ministers is great, even if it does have a Saltire slapped on it.

We all know the SNP wants Scotland to leave the UK. But while they are in power at Holyrood, they govern for all of us. There was no need to change a perfectly practical policy simply to make a political point. Nicola Sturgeon won’t have to worry about paying her electric bills this winter, but there are thousands of Scots who will freeze so that she can boast we do things differently north of the Border.