The Covid recovery strategy commits us to actions that support financial security for low-income households. The cost of living crisis represents an unprecedented challenge that is impacting people across Scotland and we are providing significant additional support to help mitigate that situation. By March, we will have invested almost £3 billion in a range of measures for households, supporting energy bills, childcare, health and travel, as well as social security payments.
In our programme for government, we announced several further responses to maximise support for those in need, including a new winter heating payment, the doubling of our fuel insecurity fund to £20 million, £5 million additional funding for discretionary housing payments, and further action to reduce the cost of the school day for families.
Last week, I met Matthew Cole, who is the head of the Fuel Bank Foundation, which is an organisation that mainly provides help for customers on pre-payment meters who are at real risk of having their energy supply cut off.
Given that the Tory United Kingdom Government has decided to prioritise the wealthy at the expense of ordinary families, what powers does the Scottish Government need in order to realise Scotland’s energy potential and to ensure that nobody has their lights and heating cut off when they do not have the cash to top up fuel?
The type of powers and responsibilities needed would be the powers to reform the energy market and to apply a windfall tax to energy companies, which will profit enormously from the rise in energy costs. However, under the current UK Government proposals, the burden of paying for all that support will be added to the borrowing stock and obligations of future generations. Those examples show how getting wider powers for the Scottish Parliament would make a difference.
As Scotland’s economy recovers from the Covid crisis, what can the cabinet secretary say to people who are facing a tough winter of skyrocketing energy costs, especially people, including many of my constituents, who are reliant on heating oil, for which there is no cap?
I have every sympathy with the point that Beatrice Wishart has raised. Indeed, the other week I had the pleasure of meeting Councillor Emma Macdonald, the leader of Shetland Islands Council, after she had published an analysis of the expected increases in costs for people in Shetland and the Orkney islands, which will be at an even greater level because of temperature and limited daylight over the winter.
I have every sympathy with the points that the member has raised and I assure her that we will continue to make representations to the UK Government to provide direct intervention. If we can try to offer support in other ways through some of the financial schemes that the Scottish Government has available, I will ensure that that information is available to Beatrice Wishart’s constituents, so that they might access such funds.