Parliament returned on Monday and so last week saw preparations for it. The issues this session remain much the same as before, with energy costs to the fore. There may have been a further reduction in the Energy Price Guarantee, but costs still remain higher than last winter where £400 was given to each household and from the year before that. The days of when energy seem affordable, let alone cheap, now seem a distant memory. As winter approaches many are understandably fearful of what it’ll bring.
I was therefore concerned to be contacted by Fuel Poverty campaigners fearful that UK Government suggestions of a social tariff being brought in might be getting forgotten. A social tariff applies in many European countries ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable have access to energy at discounted rates. The regulator OFGEM confirms its possible here but requires political direction.
So far that hasn’t been forthcoming. I can understand why the Treasury may not wish to provide support to every household. That may well be viewed as unaffordable and even possibly undesirable, as last winter it was also given to holiday homeowners not even resident at the time.
But ensuring that those least able to meet costs and most needing the heat and power’s essential. I’ve a meeting with the Energy Minister next week and will be seeking to ensure they deliver on this and for this winter.
The increased deaths through alcohol announced last week are also a concern. Minimum Unit Price has mitigated the harm but to be fully effective it requires to rise. Ireland has followed Scotland but at a price equivalent to 65P not the 50p in Scotland which was set almost a decade ago. But as delays in access to alcohol treatment services lengthen and addiction services face cuts, its absurd that the profit from the increased price stays with the supermarkets.
Those funds should be hypothecated to support alcohol treatment services, not boost corporate profits. So far, the Chancellor has refused to give the Scottish Parliament the powers to levy that income for social benefit. That must change.