The energy price cap rise announced last week has focused minds across the political spectrum on how this massive addition to the Tory cost of living crisis we are facing can be most effectively tackled.
The Scottish Government is already having to spend almost £600m a year to mitigate cruel, punitive Tory austerity measures. Specific to this winter, the Scottish Government has already made available £41 million in a Winter Support Fund aimed at supporting the most vulnerable households to heat their homes. While this has been a massive help, it is likely that more support will be needed in coming months.
This will be especially true for those in the Highlands and Islands who are off the mains gas grid and rely on electricity for their heating and hot water. Many are already in fuel poverty, or extreme fuel poverty, so a 54% price hike is simply not going to be sustainable.
It is clear that the £200 loan announced by the UK Government is not going to touch the sides in terms of helping mitigate against the massive price hike on 1st April. The Scottish Government has already pledged to spend every penny of the £290 million coming from Westminster to support households struggling with the cost of living crisis.
However, many more households are at real risk of being pushed into poverty and hardship unless the UK Government urgently delivers a meaningful package of support – including turning the energy bill loan into a grant.
Along with further support from the UK Government, significant change in the way our energy system operates will be critical – and all the powers to do are reserved to Westminster. The time to act is arguably long past, but now would be better than never.
Elsewhere, but also very much aligned to the ability of folk in Orkney and across the Highlands and Islands to afford to live in their own communities, I spoke on homelessness in Holyrood last week.
I was glad to get the chance to contribute to the debate on Prevention of Homelessness Duties. The issue of homelessness now falls under the Social Justice and Social Security remit; a move I support hugely as it demonstrates that this SNP Government understands that homelessness is a social justice issue and not solely one about buildings.
If we want to end homelessness and depopulation in the Highlands and Islands, our communities need enough homes for people to move into – and this means action on the overprovision of short-term lets in our rural areas, including Orkney.
It was also fantastic to hear about the recent decision to keep air traffic control services in Orkney and at airports across the rest of the Highlands and Islands, rather than the plans to centralise control at Inverness.
Skilled jobs servicing our islands should remain where they belong – in our islands, so I was glad to see the constructive proposals, and hope this will bring our air traffic workers the job security they deserve.
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 write a personal column.