Nicola Sturgeon grilled on independence by Andrew Marr
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The First Minister used her keynote speech at the SNP party conference on Monday to vow that, “in the course of next year”, she will “initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023”. Her announcement came days after a startling new report found hundreds of thousands of Scots are currently living in fuel poverty – and are being forced to choose between heating and eating. The report has led to criticism, with some arguing the First Minister is more preoccupied with pursuing a second independence referendum than helping hundreds of thousands of freezing Scots.
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, told Express.co.uk: “Whilst the SNP are preoccupied with independence hundreds of thousands of Scots are struggling to heat their homes this winter.
“As we move to net zero, the SNP Government need to address this scandal.
“No one should be in a position where they have to ration their electricity, or switch off their heating for fear of a hefty bill, yet under the SNP it risks happening in a quarter of homes.
“Instead of obsessing about breaking up the UK, the SNP need to be getting on with the day job and supporting vulnerable Scottish people by helping them out of fuel poverty.”
Around one-quarter of Scottish households (613,000) are currently living in fuel poverty, according to a new report by social enterprise the Wise Group.
Despite a 139 percent increase in people seeking debt relief support, there has only been a 41 percent increase in debt relief given out by energy firms, which has resulted in more people disconnecting from the grid year-round, the Lights Off to Lights On report found.
People are choosing to disconnect themselves from their energy suppliers because they are unable to pay bills.
The report found people in fuel poverty had unintentionally become the most environmentally friendly of the population due to not being able to afford fuel.
Sean Duffy, Wise Group chief executive, said: “Almost a quarter of Scots live in fuel poverty. As a result, vulnerable people are choosing to self-disconnect their energy supply to save money and, as the temperatures drop, the decision to choose between eating and heating becomes increasingly stark.
”We have seen increasing numbers choosing to disconnect their energy supply or at risk of self-disconnection for a variety of reasons.
“These households are hidden from the traditional ‘in debt’ description of the ‘vulnerable customer’ because they have chosen to disconnect.
“Behind these shocking figures are real stories of people wrapped in a duvet all day to keep warm, scared of sending their kids to school smelling of damp, unable to boil the kettle or cook their dinner, terrified of the next energy bill.
“Sadly, many communities in Glasgow, and across Scotland and the north east of England, are already leading the way in energy reduction – as they are simply unable to afford it.
“Often families in fuel poverty are paying the price of energy inefficiency in their home and higher prices for metered energy use.”
Energy wholesale costs have soared in the last year because of lower supplies across Europe, compounded by an exceptional year which has produced less wind energy than normal, as well as some technical faults and outages.
These issues come as global economies are starting to recover from the pandemic, which increased demand and pushed prices up even higher.
Despite OFGEM introducing a UK-wide energy price cap at a 12 percent rise, many are being forced to choose between heating and eating.
A Scottish pensioner, named Jim, has struggled with fuel poverty while recovering from open heart surgery and trying to care for his chronically ill wife.
Jim, from Greenock, said: “We felt cold all the time. It was a real problem for ages, and to be honest, most of the time you just don’t know what to do.
“When it gets that bad, you just can’t see a way out. We couldn’t afford to heat the home properly, we struggled with bills and we didn’t know about up-to-date insulation and efficiency measures beyond a draught excluder by the door.
“That’s not how you should have to live.”
The Wise Group research revealed an incredible 185 percent jump in energy advice enquiries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked what the Government could do to ease this problem, a spokesperson for the Wise Group told Express.co.uk: “Over the course of the pandemic the demographics of those suffering from fuel poverty has shifted dramatically, as pensioners and those in work, including families in the most affluent areas, are disconnecting their energy.
“As such, Government and energy suppliers should avoid support being provided on a tick-box basis, but rather match need with support through common-sense schemes and partnerships.
“We are committed to engaging in exciting new partnerships to help individuals escape fuel poverty for good through behavioural change, allowing them to independently manage their own energy future.”
The Wise Group will continue to help their increasing number of customers boost their confidence in managing energy needs, as well as offering advice on heating homes affordably and how to get access to funding such as the Warm Home Discount.
The SNP has been contacted for comment.
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