Tory austerity and greed will force vulnerable people to pay a high price this winter – Kayleigh O’Neill

People are having to decide between turning the heating on or eating. This winter will be a lot darker for many people and their situation hasn’t been helped by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s devastating budget cuts.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's budget cuts are going to make life worse for many (Picture: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's budget cuts are going to make life worse for many (Picture: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's budget cuts are going to make life worse for many (Picture: Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

The recent autumn statement was a divisive package of austerity, greed, and further uncertainty. It is very clear that the Tory government is only out to protect themselves and others like them. It is all fun and games for those playing musical chairs in Downing Street but, across the country and beyond, thousands are being pushed further into poverty.

I represent Forth ward in North Edinburgh, and I spend my days speaking to families who can’t pay their bills, can’t pay their rent, and don’t know if they’ll be able to survive the winter. Elderly people tell me they’re scared they’ll go to sleep and freeze. Disabled people tell me they’re going without equipment or devices like ventilators or wheelchairs because they can’t afford to keep them plugged in.

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I remember reading a story of a family in Clackmannanshire who were facing a £17,000 energy bill to operate their daughter’s life support and keep the heating on. Actress Kate Winslet donated the large sum of money via GoFundMe which was met with admiration and relief from many who are in similar circumstances.

The issues of fuel and food poverty are far too prevalent for an island that can apparently afford to accommodate Tory misadventures. They are so keen on charity but refuse to create a system in which it isn’t needed.

The ongoing cost-of-living crisis will remain a concern for so many people. Constituents have come to me specifically about the worries of isolation and fuel poverty. This is why I’m pushing for the council to roll out the Warm and Welcoming Spaces scheme quickly and in a way that includes everyone – especially those who will be hardest hit this winter.

At a recent meeting of full council, I asked my ward colleague and the council leader Cammy Day about where these warm spaces will be and what will be done for areas in which there are not council or other organisations that could host people in need.

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The council is already identifying spaces such as libraries, museums and galleries that could offer free activities for a variety of age groups, providing spaces where people can feel safe, warm and at ease, while being able to access support and advice to alleviate food and fuel poverty.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this roll-out and continue to raise the issue of accessibility and amenity that constituents bring to me. It is upsetting that this has become acceptable, but we have no choice but to fight. Whilst the UK Government continues to trigger inflation, cut public services and inflict further austerity, local people must do more with less.

For those of us in Scotland, we are dealing with the fifth Tory Prime Minister in 12 years that we didn’t vote for. The most vulnerable have paid the price and will continue to do so. As Westminster insists on pushing pain and poverty, we will do everything we can to offer hope and provide support.

Kayleigh O’Neill is a Scottish Green Party councillor for Forth ward

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