Social justice secretary quizzed by Holyrood committee after anti-poverty fund scrapped

Social justice secretary quizzed by Holyrood committee after anti-poverty fund scrapped

The Scottish Government has been questioned on its plans to cancel a vital support fund helping households at risk of fuel poverty, by Holyrood’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee.

It comes as the Scottish Government’s Budget, announced last month by deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for finance, Shona Robison MSP, continues to be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament.

The cancellation of the £30 million Fuel Insecurity Fund, which was just last year described by first minister Humza Yousaf MSP as a “vital lifeline” for struggling households, featured among a series of questions fielded by the cabinet secretary for social justice, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, in front of the committee.

When asked by James Dornan MSP what the Scottish Government had put in place to replace the Fuel Insecurity Fund, the cabinet secretary was only able to cite existing measures to tackle fuel poverty and had said that they faced ‘difficult choices.

Plans to cancel the fuel poverty support scheme have also been criticised by organisations responsible for providing support to hundreds of thousands of people through the Fund, including the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), Energy Action Scotland and the Fuel Bank Foundation.

Director of external affairs at the SFHA, Carolyn Lochhead, said: “The decision to cancel the Fuel Insecurity Fund will have a devastating impact on social tenants across Scotland.

“We fully agree that it was a vital lifeline for tackling poverty and feel that this decision, alongside the hammer-blow cut to the Affordable Housing Supply Programme, is extremely short-sighted given the cost-of-living crisis.

“When we opened the previous round of funding to housing associations and co-operatives, applications for the available support were oversubscribed within a matter of hours, underlining just how important this support is to tenants.”

The SFHA said that tenants from over 90% of the country’s housing associations and co-operatives had directly benefited from the fund which its analysis found had created over £119.5m of social value to Scotland’s economy from an initial investment of just £6.5m.

Siobhan Doyle, head of impact at Fuel Bank Foundation, said “The timing of this announcement literally couldn’t be worse. Just last week, we recorded the highest number of people we have helped in a week - over 20,000 across Scotland.

“The need for crisis support is growing so, if anything, the government should be increasing its spending in this area, not decreasing it. We have always valued the support of the Scottish Government and we urge them to reverse this devastating decision.”

Frazer Scott, chief executive of Energy Action Scotland, said: “Scottish households continue to face incredibly high energy costs and record levels of energy debt. The Fuel Insecurity Fund is a vital support to hundreds of thousands of families, helping people to stay on supply, providing respite from mounting households pressure through to energy saving appliances and essential warmth items including duvets and blankets.

“The cost-of-living crisis is enduring, and fuel poverty levels have reached over 1 in 3 households. UK Government support for households with energy has reduced, and energy suppliers have now restarted debt collection practices which were in abeyance for almost a year.

“Energy prices may fall but they are unlikely to fall back to anything like the levels experienced in 2020. It is vital that the fund is reinstated to reduce the potential for harm in communities across Scotland.”

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