We must act to remove the fear of fuel poverty - Lorna Slater

Last week I gave the concluding speech for the Scottish Government as part of the Net Zero Nation debate. It was the first time that any Green politician has given a speech on behalf of a government anywhere in the UK.

By Lorna Slater
Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 7:00 am
One in five households across Edinburgh were in fuel poverty prior to the pandemic
One in five households across Edinburgh were in fuel poverty prior to the pandemic

It was a speech that I was proud to give, and one that gave me a chance to underline our commitment to building a fairer, greener economy and tackling the climate and nature emergencies.

The timing could not be more urgent, with the energy crisis emphasising the need for real and meaningful change. Over the last three weeks, over 1.5 million people in the UK have seen their energy providers collapsing, with surging gas prices threatening to plunge thousands of families into fuel poverty.

The UK Government insists that “the lights won’t go out”, but the thing I’m most concerned about is the impact it will have on the health and wellbeing of people in this city and beyond.

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Lockdown has kept millions of us at home, which has stretched budgets and led to even higher energy bills. Government estimates show that around one in five households across Edinburgh were in fuel poverty prior to the pandemic, with many living in cold, damp, hard-to-heat homes.

Nobody should be forced to choose between heating or eating or worry about how they will stay warm over winter. It is not just bad for incomes, it’s also terrible for physical and mental health. It entrenches existing inequalities, with people on low incomes far more likely to be at risk of fuel poverty.

There is an immediate challenge about what we do here and now. But, looking to the longer term, it emphasises why we must restructure our economy and end our dependency on volatile, unreliable and climate-destroying fossil fuels.

That is why the Scottish Government plans to invest at least £1.8 billion to make homes across Scotland more energy efficient and to switch from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives. No home can be left behind.

Over this parliamentary term we will invest a further £400 million in heating and energy efficiency projects. This will empower communities, with support for zero carbon local and district heat networks.

This will be good for our communities and our climate. It will be part of a socially just and green transition that creates a fairer and more sustainable economy while creating thousands of new and high-quality jobs.

But it is not just a choice for Scotland. So many of the most vital powers lie with Westminster. Boris Johnson has said that the upcoming COP climate conference in Glasgow must be “a turning point for the world” but that must be backed up with action.

The planned cut to pandemic support and Universal Credit will only make matters worse, particularly at a time when our pandemic recovery is fragile.

£20 a week may not be a lot to the Prime Minister and his colleagues, but for far too many families it is crucial to their budgeting and their wellbeing. For many people across this city, it could be the difference between a warm home and a cold one this winter.

The Scotland we are building is one that will put human needs first. The country I want to see is one where everyone can have a warm and energy efficient home that provides comfort and security without it costing the earth.

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