With just over half of recess having flown by already, I’m feeling grateful at all the opportunities I’ve had so far to meet with organisations and community groups to find out more about the work they’re doing to support their local communities and how I can help them in my role as their regional MSP. I’ve managed to get around so many visits, like meeting with UHI, and there’s still so much to come.
During my summer recess tour I’ve also had the opportunity to meet constituents at my surgeries. While we may still be enjoying the tail end of the school summer holidays, the concern for the winter ahead has been a prevalent issue for most constituents I have met.
With UK energy regulator Ofgem announcing an energy price cap rise every three months rather than every six months, householders will be hit by two price hikes in the coming winter, with the first in October being forecast to be in the region of 77%, pushing average bills up to around £3500.
However, for folk in Orkney and across the Highlands and Islands without mains gas, the picture is even more bleak, with average bills already around £3000, and likely to be heading for £5000 or more by January 2023.
As a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee, I received evidence of the impact of the 54% energy price cap hike on 1st April from organisations across Scotland, including fuel poverty charity THAW Orkney. The island charity reported a 186% increase in support distributed in April 2022 – £11,105 in 83 awards compared to £3882 in 42 awards in April 2021.
The scale of support that will be required after a 77% price increase ahead of the coming winter is almost unthinkable.
The imminent increases will clearly be unsustainable and lead to underheating of homes across the region, with potential devastating impacts on physical and mental health. The recent results of my cost-of-living survey for the Highlands & Islands have evidenced this, with 98% of residents saying they feel extremely worried about the increased cost of their bills, and 74% saying the cost-of-living crisis significantly impacted their mental health.
While a significant amount of the money secured by THAW Orkney during 2021-22 came from the Scottish Government, including £71,838 from the Home Heating Support Fund, powers over energy pricing and regulation lie with the UK Government, which is currently in zombie mode until a new Tory leader is elected. But we can’t wait until that unedifying contest is resolved. If Boris Johnson won’t go to Westminster to announce targeted support for the most vulnerable, then he should devolve the powers to Holyrood so we can help folk in Scotland.
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.