No, I am sorry, but I will continue my speech.
There are of course other ways that the UK Government can take action. They can increase household incomes, but instead they have allowed wages to stagnate, adopted a false living wage for select age groups, and pushed people further into poverty through their welfare cuts. The truth is that this Government do not do enough to help our most vulnerable people.
The Scottish Government have now taken over control of some of the new welfare powers. They have hit the ground running by doing what they can to support vulnerable groups, and please be assured that the new Scottish Government welfare powers will be built on a foundation of respect and dignity—things that are severely lacking in the UK welfare regime. For older people, the Scottish Government have launched a campaign to ensure that all groups are able to access the public funds they are entitled to; for example, one third of pensioners are entitled to pension credit but do not claim it. The new best start grant has already been referred to, and the Scottish Government have spent almost £58 million mitigating the impact of Tory austerity cuts to welfare on homes across Scotland. A £7.7 million increase in funding for discretionary housing payments will be made as the Scottish Parliament takes over more welfare powers. Between April 2013 and March 2016, local authorities will have made 321,000 discretionary housing payment awards totalling £129 million.
I can tell the House from personal experience how important these discretionary housing payments and the Scottish welfare fund set up by the Scottish Government to mitigate these cuts were to people when I was a local councillor. Since becoming an MP, I can also tell of the numbers of people attending my surgeries in real poverty, and that impacts especially on their ability to keep their houses warm; they are in real fuel poverty as a direct result of some of the actions taken by this Government.
The Scottish Government have also taken steps to mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax. All of this has helped the most vulnerable groups in Scotland. However—this will come as no surprise to the House—I agree with the First Minister that the Scottish Parliament’s finances and powers should be used to tackle poverty at its core, rather than being a plaster over Tory neglect. Given the powers that they currently have, the Scottish Government are doing what they can to alleviate fuel poverty in Scotland. Much of what they have done has helped with energy efficiency, thus reducing bills. The World Health Organisation attributes 30% of preventable deaths to cold and poorly insulated housing. Inroads have been made in Scotland to improve housing. In fact, some new houses were built and allocated recently in my constituency and they have been built to the highest specifications. This will enable the people living in them to spend far less on fuel than is currently the case in most houses across Scotland.
It is imperative that the UK Government urgently address the cost of energy across the UK. The large energy firms must be made to fulfil their social responsibilities. It is shameful that so many folk across the UK have to juggle heating and eating. Rolling out smart meters is not enough when people have no means of keeping warm. The fact that the Minister refers to an annual debate on fuel poverty should give us all pause for thought.