Emma Roddick MSP: The New Winter Support Fund

When it comes to putting cash in the pockets of those that will need it most in the coming months, we have seen a real tale of two governments in recent days.

While the Tories at Westminster cut Universal Credit, hiked National Insurance and presented a Budget that will most benefit the rich, last week the Scottish Government announced that it is putting £41 million into helping folk who are struggling this winter.

Having spoken to organisations such as THAW Orkney on my most recent visit, I know how crucial such funding will be for many this winter, especially in areas that rely on increasingly expensive electricity for their heating.

For that reason, I am delighted that the new Winter Support Fund will help those on low incomes, children and people at risk of homelessness against a backdrop of rising living and fuel costs.

The funding includes £10 million to help people who are struggling to pay fuel bills; £25 million of flexible funding to help local authorities support wellbeing and respond to financial insecurity based on local needs; and £6 million for third sector partners to support low-income families.

This package of measure aims to ease some of the strain for households by providing direct support to folk.

Support for those struggling with fuel bills will include access to fuel top-up vouchers, advice to manage fuel debt and support for those in remote and rural areas.

The Winter Support Fund will continue to promote cash-first responses in line with the Scottish Government’s draft national plan on ending the need for food banks as a primary response. In some cases, help may also be offered to tackle social isolation and support mental health.

I was also pleased last Thursday to get a pledge from Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, Shona Robison, that the Scottish Government will make the necessary funding available to social housing providers in the islands and elsewhere to help cover costs associated with meeting new building regulations in relation to sprinkler systems.

It had been brought to my attention while visiting Orkney Housing Association Ltd that the mains water pressure in Orkney, and indeed in Shetland, is not high enough to meet the standard on its own, so water tanks must be installed nearby each development in order to create a pressure that fulfils the new legal requirement.

The welcome introduction of these new fire safety regulations shouldn’t mean island social housing providers – who are working hard to make sure their buildings are up to standard and their tenants kept safe – are short-changed, so the pledge to meet the costs was very welcome.

Another organisation I met during my recess visit was Orkney Rape and Sexual Assault Service, and I was heartened to see the work they were doing at the weekend to remind folk that their Halloween costumes needn’t be racist, transphobic or culturally inappropriate. At any time of year, a fun fancy dress night can be had without perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

This is a regular column by SNP MSP Emma Roddick. All Highlands and Islands MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.

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