Gas price crisis: Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson are failing to help those facing a choice between heating and eating – Susan Dalgety

We are all facing a long, hard winter. Energy prices, never cheap at the best of times, are soaring.

Monday, 27th September 2021, 4:55 am
Boris Johnson should drop the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit to help people cope with rising gas prices (Picture: Julian Simmonds/WPA pool/Getty Images)

The latest predictions suggest that gas and electric bills could rise by as much as 14 per cent next April, on top of an expected increase of £139 a year from next month when the energy cap is adjusted.

As the nights draw in, many households across Lothian will be faced with a stark choice – food or heat. And it’s not just pensioners on fixed incomes who will be struggling to keep warm. Families will find it tough too.

It is estimated that in Scotland there are 613,000 people in fuel poverty, but I suggest there are hundreds of thousands more who will find it hard to pay their electric or gas bill this winter. Senior politicians have no idea what it means to choose between turning the heating up in the living room or buying a chicken for Sunday dinner.

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Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon earn around six times the median wage in Scotland, which is £25,600. Neither of them will feel sick when their monthly direct debit rises again, or despair when their prepayment card runs out of credit a week before pay day.

Nicola won’t have to resort to the tealights-under-two-flowerpots trick to keep the Bute House drawing room warm. And Boris won’t need to insulate his Downing Street windows with recycled bubble wrap to keep out the cold.

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Or course, it’s not Boris’s fault there is barely enough wind to power Britain’s network of turbines; nor has Nicola created the high demand for liquified gas in Asia. But they could do far more than their current rather muted response to the crisis.

Boris should immediately stop the cut to Universal Credit which will see Britain’s poorest households lose £20 a week, just as their energy bills start to rise. His government could also force energy suppliers to stop penalising people who use prepayment cards. Their energy cap, at £1,309, is higher than the standard rate of £1,277.

As for the First Minister, she should revisit her broken promise to set up a public energy company. Her decision to ditch plans for a national service and replace it with an “advisory” body shows an astonishing lack of ambition.

As the world gathers in Glasgow in a few weeks’ time for Cop26, Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish Green allies have the chance to show real leadership by unveiling plans for a national energy service, one powered by renewable energy.

Scotland, with its abundance of natural resources, relatively small population and world-leading energy experts, could have shown the rest of the UK – and the world – how good governments should respond to the energy crisis.

As Sturgeon promised in 2017, a national power company could sell energy “as close to cost price as possible”. We may never know why the First Minister’s ambitions shrivelled to a toothless quango, but it does suggest that her government’s stated ambition of being net zero by 2045 is an empty slogan.

As the temperatures drop and energy prices rise, people need more than warm words, they need action.

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