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KAREN ADAM: Cost of living crisis hits people on low incomes the hardest

By Karen Adam

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It’s good to talk.

During the many conversations I had at the Portsoy Boat Festival (and also illustrated throughout constituency casework), the cost of living crisis was undoubtedly at the forefront of everyone’s mind. People asked what can and is being done to help people, quickly. I know people want action, not words, and I want to say something about what is being done locally at a council level, and in some pioneering ways, and is in addition to the mitigation by the Scottish Government.

Many people are struggling with rising fuel bills.
Many people are struggling with rising fuel bills.

It is people on low incomes who are being hit the hardest. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns that low-income single-adult households alone, could soon be forced to spend a majority of their income on gas and electricity. Despite the Westminster government’s assurances and promises, the Office of Budgetary Responsibility warns that we could be facing the sharpest fall in living standards since the 1950s.

We are in a desperate and urgent situation for people and we have to have joined up thinking to resolve this. Local and national experts have to talk to each other and have focused, wrap round conversations as we confront a challenging autumn/winter.

I was pleased to see new thinking from Aberdeenshire Council communities committee recently. Too often, work with good intentions takes place within a ‘silo mentality’, where A does not speak to B, even when they share a common goal. My colleague and Banff and District councillor Glen Reynolds proposed a way forward as a lead spokesperson on that committee which went straight to the heart of the matter. I am pleased it received universal support.

He suggested an urgent and detailed piece of work which involves stakeholders in the Aberdeenshire Community Planning Partnership (whose work involves local outcomes and identified priorities around health, wellbeing, poverty and community resilience for example), all uniting around seeing where the council and the community partnership are, in terms of local priorities sitting in juxtaposition to the cost of living crisis. It’s a good example of ensuring we are walking the walk on a specific journey, identifying gaps as well as best practice to address the crisis. It will make a speedy difference to helping people now.

MSP Karen Adam
MSP Karen Adam

Time is of the essence. I understand Moray Council are speedily engaging with help that is needed for small and medium sized businesses (over 90 per cent of businesses in Moray) and are placing a notice of motion before the council to ensure contact is made with Westminster to highlight concerns. I also know that the income maximisation team at Moray is working flat out too, with food banks under extreme pressure in Buckie for example, where the big issue is the ‘working poor’.

The Scottish Government has taken steps within its devolved powers, to help households and businesses, introducing £150 council tax payments – reaching 1.85 million (73 per cent) of all households, investing £10 million to continue the Fuel Insecurity Fund, but it is right to look locally at the interventions that can be made by our local councils.

The Westminster removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift last year was a hammer blow to hard pressed families and the refusal to reverse the National Insurance increase implemented in April, along with a call to temporarily suspend VAT on household energy bills, will also cost families hundreds of pounds when their budgets have never been more squeezed.

The Scottish Government has already taken action to support people, communities and businesses, with almost £770 million per year invested in cost of living support. We have increased eight Scottish benefits by six per cent, closer to the rate of inflation, and introduced a range of family benefits not available elsewhere in the UK.

We are rightly called to love local, so let’s see what our local councils can do to love us back, in mitigating the impact of this horrendous challenge.

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