Summer’s passing with the warmest July on record but who knows what winter will bring and there’s little cheer for those worrying about energy bills. A further reduction in the Energy Price Guarantee trumpeted by OFGEM and by the Energy Secretary Grant Shapps is of course welcome.
But it’s going to be a bleak winter for many and a cruel one for some. For you can turn off the heating in summer with the euphemism “self-disconnection” becoming the norm for many, keeping it off no matter what the need might be as it’s simply unaffordable. But winters different.
The price reduction’s now 17% but it still leaves energy costs higher than last winter for most, as the support of £400 per households absent. They’re also still higher than the winter before that and the days of affordable energy now seems a lifetime away for many.
The misery for many wasn’t just in having to huddle in one room or wear layers of outdoor clothing in your living room. The stark statistics of a large increase in hypothermic cases recorded by the Scottish Ambulance Service showing the reality for some. It’s causing misery and it’s also costing lives.
That’s just heating but we need to remember we’re also talking about power. Washing the bairns clothes for school, charging your phone for work or social contact, being able to make a hot meal even if it’s only in the microwave aren’t little luxuries, they’re essentials. There’s also those who are being treated or recovering from illness and either need to power lifesaving equipment or feel the cold far more intensely. That misery is tragically documented by charities whether kidney or cancer.
It’s why action needs taken by government. Yet Shapps and his Tory cohort seem oblivious to the need and impervious to the growing litany of misery. It’s not simply the cost that’s the burden for many but it’s the debt they’re already carrying that’s weighing many down.
Fuel arrears have escalated, and whilst it’s welcome that suppliers haven’t been turning off the taps the problem hasn’t gone away. According to the charity Debt Justice, as at end 2022 £2.28 billion of debt had been accrued and £1.5 billion had no payment arrangement in place. It’s likely worsened since then. Some form of amnesty, write off and repayment scheme’s needed. But for this coming winter two actions are needed urgently.
Firstly, the cost of standing charges needs reduced. That’s hammering those most vulnerable and those least able to pay. It’s unjust and needs addressed. Of course, there require to be some standing charges but the current rates especially in relation to the cost of usage needs rebalanced.
Secondly, a social tariff needs brought in. It’s understandable that blanket support for all may be either unaffordable or even undesirable. But targeted support for those poorest and most vulnerable is again only right and just. It happens in other European countries and would address the fears of health charities never mind the disgrace of hypothermia cases.
The government alluded to it and Energy Ministers seemed committed to it. It now must be delivered whatever Treasury May say. Lives not just quality of life depends on it. Boasting of Scotland’s oil gas and renewables wealth rings hollow when so many Scots are fuel poor.