Energy Bills – Scotsman Article – 24 February 2022


Fuel costs are mounting and fears increasing as further hikes near. It’s becoming the number one issue for many and not just the poor. Ukraine, Covid and even Partygate all fade into the background, as concerns about just how high they’ll be and more importantly just how they can be paid.

The actions so far, whether from the Chancellor or the Scottish Government, have been entirely inadequate for the scale of the problem. Not only is Rishi Sunak giving with one hand but taking with another through his supposed rebate but he’s also coining it in. It’s estimated that he’ll get back £100 of his £200 supposed rebate through VAT by October.

But why’s VAT imposed on household energy bills anyway? It may only be 5% but this is situation critical. It’s a charge that’s also not imposed on food which is rightly viewed as an essential item. It’s time that disparity was addressed, as post Brexit it can’t be blamed on the EU. This is Sunak’s surcharge.

The rebate provided by the Scottish Government’s also inadequate for those in dire straits. The funds provided by the Chancellor may have been limited but rather than sharing it more widely and providing for many who don’t require it, more, much more, should have been given to those that really need it. As ever Sturgeon prefers wider popularity than actions that properly deliver for the poor.

Aside from immediate steps to address the coming crisis, longer term changes in charging are required. The definition of fuel poverty for those who might not be aware is where “a household spends more than 10% of its income on fuel costs and if the remaining household income is insufficient to maintain an adequate standard of living”. That latter aspect often the cruel conundrum of heating or eating.

It’s already reckoned that one in three in Scotland fall into that category. How high’s that figure to go before action’s taken. The worst areas in Scotland are currently the islands where almost 50% are falling into the desperate plight. Worsening climatic conditions and increased food and other costs will ensure that mainland Scots will soon be matching their island kinfolk.

That’s absurd when off our shores there’s energy aplenty, whether existing oil and gas or from the new renewables revolution. The absurdity becomes a perversity when transmission charges to send energy south are higher in Scotland but then matched by higher charges by suppliers for consumers to access what’s been remitted.

Worsening all that charges for those with least are the highest. Pre-payment meters are an exploitation of the poor and action there needs taken. Standing charges compound the harm. The euphemism “self-disconnection” has now come into vogue but what it means is those who just can’t afford it or maybe just need to eat. But it impacts on so much of modern life. Not just keeping warm but even charging your phone.

This is Dickensian not twenty first century Scotland, these are human needs and rights.