Saturday, February 21st, 2015
I was shocked to learn that Inverness foodbank is the busiest in Britain, and that the demands on it are growing.
Poverty on any scale is deeply worrying, and gives the lie to the coalition government’s claims that ‘we’re all in this together’ and that the economy is growing. It is ironic that Danny Alexander, MP for the Inverness area and number four in the coalition government’s cabal, is the prime architect of the government’s austerity drive.
Fuel poverty (spending 10% or more of a household’s income on energy) is one of the prime causes of many people’s financial difficulties.
Why are energy bills so high? In 2013, the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition government, with the full backing of the Labour Party, made standing charges in domestic energy bills a statutory requirement.
Standing charges are now commonly around £100 per annum, making energy considerably more expensive for people living in flats or small houses and out at work all day, compared to those living in large houses and mansions.
Standing charges mean that someone living in a mansion could be using ten times the electricity of someone in a flat, but only pay about five times as much. The poor are subsidising the rich!
This requirement also undermines the value of energy efficiency endeavours, because any financial savings would only reduce the consumption element of an energy bill, leaving the standing charge untouched. Someone could reduce their electricity costs to just £1 per annum, yet their overall electricity bill would still be £101! Furthermore, the coalition government has drastically cut back the Energy Companies Obligation – a government scheme which was designed to help insulate homes and so reduce energy bills.
For eighteen months, Highlands and Islands Greens have been pressing the coalition government to abandon this standing charge requirement – so far to no avail. We have sought the SNP Government’s involvement, but they have shown little interest.
We consider that everyone should pay the same rates for electricity and gas, with no standing charge. This would significantly reduce energy costs for millions of small customers. It would also withdraw the financial feather-bedding that standing charges provide to energy companies.
Dropping standing charges will not, on its own, remove the need for food banks, but it will be a huge step towards that aim.