Nearly half of Scottish parents already struggling with bills ahead of energy price surge

NEARLY half of Scottish parents say they are already struggling to afford their bills as fears grow about the looming energy surge and cost of living crisis.

Yesterday Michael Matheson, the Scottish Government energy secretary, admitted that internal modelling predicts that around 900,000 Scots will be plunged into fuel poverty or extreme fuel poverty as a result of the upcoming 54 per cent rise in energy prices.

Now a new survey carried out for Parenting across Scotland, a coalition of charities, found that 46% of parents are already finding it more difficult to manage costs.

The study was conducted in November and December last year, also revealing that 47% of parents were finding it more difficult to save money than they did a year previously, and 22% had seen a reduction in earnings in the past 12 months.

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The Parenting across Scotland group, whose members include Children in Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland and the Aberlour children’s charity, have now raised concerns that those who are currently “just about managing” will be forced in to poverty.

Clare Simpson, director of the coalition group, said: “It is clear that the proposed actions to address the cost-of-living increases are totally inadequate.

“Both Scottish and UK governments must take immediate targeted action to ensure help reaches those who need it.”

One Parent Families Scotland said the “most straightforward” way the UK Government could help would be to increase social security benefits by 6% in April instead of the planned 3.1% rise

Aberlour chief executive Sally Ann Kelly said applications to its urgent assistance fund had increased by more than 1000% during the pandemic.

She explained: “Many families are at breaking point. They are desperate and in despair.

“Parents tell us they are stressed and worried about their finances and about plunging further into debt. They tell us their children don’t have adequate clothing, that they aren’t sure where the next meal is coming from, and they are afraid to put the heating on.

“The cost-of-living crisis is pushing already struggling families over the edge. Without action from both the Scottish and UK Governments it will be disastrous for Scotland’s poorest children.”

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Energy secretary Mr Matheson said yesterday that the UK government should convert the planned £200 loan for energy bills in to a grant, or risk making the lowest earners even more worse off.

He said: “If fuel prices stay high over the course of the next couple of years… it could actually end up forcing more homes into poverty because households are not only having to face high fuel prices but [will also be] paying back the loan.”

Asked what he could do to help, Mr Matheson said: “Well the reality is that the vast majority have the tools to deal with this and actually controlled at a UK-level.”

He said Holyrood minsters were investing £1.8bn into energy efficiency schemes to reduce the reliance on energy, had set up the winter fuel fund and were increasing the Scottish child payment to £40 from April.

UK Government energy minister Greg Hands said the Treasury had given Holyrood £290m to use to further help people, and dismissed the idea of converting the £200 repayable discount on bills into a grant, saying the Government had to be “fiscally responsible”.

He explained: “We know that the UK Government we spend a lot of money during the pandemic on economic support and support for households.

“The £200 that people will get from October is designed to assist people into the next winter to pay for those bills and will be clawed back over a five year period. So that’s quite a long period of time that people will have a chance to repay that.”

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He pointed to the increase in the minimum wage from April, which he said would also give low earners an extra £1000 a year in their pockets, and said the rising energy costs were a “global” issue.

Mr Hands added: “We totally recognise the difficulties that many households will be facing with a rise in prices in terms of the gas prices and energy prices. Of course, those are global prices.

“The UK is not immune from the rise in worldwide energy prices, but we actually are doing a lot to make sure that households are in a better position.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader has also called for the Treasury to hold an emergency budget to tackle to crisis, while the Treasury dismissed the call and said it was already taking steps to mitigate the impacts.

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