By Bill Heaney
Jackie Dunbar, the MSP for Aberdeen Donside SNP asked her new boss what “assessment the Scottish Government has made of the potential impact of the anticipated 1 April rise in energy bills on household finances in Scotland”.
The First Minister Humza Yousaf told her: “The reversal of the cut in the energy price guarantee was the least that the chancellor could do this spring. A progressive Government that truly had people as its priority would have done so much more to support households in need.
“We called on the chancellor to extend the £400 energy bills support scheme, but he failed to deliver and, in doing so, has placed more pressure on vulnerable households that are struggling to pay their bills and heat their homes.
“In contrast, my first act as First Minister, 24 hours after being sworn in at the Court of Session, has been not to double but to triple our fuel insecurity fund from £10 million last year to £30 million in 2023-24.
“That fund is a critical plank in our support for people who are struggling with their energy costs. It continues to provide a lifeline to households that are at risk of self-rationing or self-disconnecting their energy.”
Jackie Dunbar replied: “Following the United Kingdom budget, Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts show that a typical household’s energy bills are expected to remain in excess of £2,000 until at least the winter of 2024-25 and possibly beyond that.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and First Minister Humza Yousaf.
“Will the First Minister take the opportunity to urge Rishi Sunak and the UK Government to reverse the incomprehensible decision to scrap the £400 energy bill support scheme, which leaves many families in my constituency and across Scotland hundreds of pounds worse off?”
The First Minister told MSPs: “Jackie Dunbar is absolutely right, and I join her in urging the UK Government to reconsider. The removal of the support scheme means that a typical household’s annual bill will increase by around 19 per cent.
“As well as removing 50,000 households from fuel poverty, the continuation of the support scheme would have removed 120,000 Scottish households from extreme poverty. Instead, the UK Government has, inexplicably, chosen a course that will result in approximately 920,000 fuel-poor households in Scotland, which equates to around 37 per cent of all Scottish households. That is unacceptable.
“Although the Scottish Government is doing everything that we can, within our limited powers, to ensure that people receive the help that they need, the UK Government could have done far more to ease the burden that affects so many. That demonstrates why we need the full powers of independence.
“It is a scandal that, in an energy-rich Scotland, our people face fuel poverty because of the actions—and, often, the inactions—of the UK Government. We must never accept that as the norm or as the status quo.”