Scotland’s most vulnerable pensioners should be given an immediate £70 supplement to the Winter Fuel Payment to help alleviate fuel poverty this winter, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar will argue.
Speaking at Labour’s annual conference on Monday, Mr Sarwar will call on the SNP to “take responsibility” for the looming crisis and outline how the Scottish Government will help those most in need.
The announcement comes after it was revealed a woman in her 90s starved to death during the Covid-19 pandemic – the first fatality from lack of food recorded in Scotland for at least 20 years.
We reported last week how a leading charity has warned Scottish families will be forced to choose between heating and eating this winter, with up to a quarter in some council areas facing “extreme” fuel poverty.
An unpredictable winter
Frazer Scott, chief executive of Energy Action Scotland, said “skyrocketing” bills coupled with the end of pandemic support schemes and the continuation of home working will leave people facing harrowing choices during an “unpredictable” winter.
In his speech to conference on Monday, Mr Sarwar is expected to say: “This winter too many Scots are facing fuel poverty as energy prices spiral out of control.
“In Scotland, 150,000 pensioners live in relative poverty every year – with thousands more on the brink.
“The Scottish Parliament has the power to make winter payments reflect the pressures on fuel poor households, but the SNP have delayed taking responsibility.
“That is why we would give every pensioner on the lowest incomes £70 now to help them through the winter months.
“Where the SNP obsess over mandates and white papers, the powers of the Scottish Parliament could be used to end the choice between heating and eating this winter.”
A quarter in ‘extreme’ poverty
Our analysis of data from Ofgem, the government energy regulator, revealed more than a third of households in some local authority areas in Scotland are already living in fuel poverty, while nearly a quarter in others are in “extreme” fuel poverty.
Officials have confirmed the energy price cap will increase by £139 from £1,138 to £1,277 on October 1 this year, and for the 150,000 Scottish pensioners already living in poverty, the change could force them deeper into desperation.
Pensioner campaign groups say energy price rises will lead to preventable deaths.
The Winter Fuel Payment ‑ currently worth between £100 and £300 to pensioners – has been frozen since 2011, meaning its real value has been eroded by inflation and rising fuel costs.
The Scottish Parliament has the power to raise the payment but the SNP has delayed taking on the benefit from the Department of Work and Pensions for up to four years.
Green transition taskforce
Mr Sarwar will also use his speech to the conference in Brighton to reveal plans to establish a Scottish Energy Transmission Commission.
Former UK Government energy minister Brian Wilson will chair the new taskforce to look at how jobs can be created and protected as the country moves to greener power.
The commission will run for at least 18 months. Mr Wilson, who served as industry and energy minister in Tony Blair’s government, will lead the new body.
It comes as the party said there were now fewer than 22,000 people working in low carbon and renewable energy jobs in Scotland.
Mr Sarwar said: “The transition to net zero holds tremendous opportunities for Scottish manufacturing and our economy but we cannot trust the SNP to deliver jobs here in Scotland.
“That’s why this commission will focus relentlessly on how we can make the transition to net zero deliver work, confidence and prosperity to Scotland.”
Speaking ahead of the conference address, the MSP insisted: “We cannot allow a repeat of the end of mining, where communities were hollowed out, workers were stripped of their dignity and our industrial skills base was destroyed.
“That is the path that the SNP and the Tories have got Scotland on.
“The only way to avoid that injustice is to put at the heart of everything we do a focus on creating and supporting a jobs first transition which has the support of workers and the local communities.”
Mr Sarwar said he was “delighted” that Mr Wilson had agreed to lead the commission, which he said would “help plan a path to a brighter, greener and more prosperous Scotland”.