RISING food prices, soaring energy bills and skyrocketing inflation are seeing many Scots choose between heating and eating, charities are warning.

Foodbank usage in Scotland has risen substantially over the past five years and with the energy price cap set to rise again, more Scots will be in need of financial aid.

The Scottish Government has responded to the crisis with measures to hand most households £150.

However, the support comes after energy regulator Ofcom confirmed gas and electricity bills will rise by £693 for the average home.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes says spiralling energy costs should be 'fixed at source'

This is on top of increasing prices around the economy, including on the cheapest foods. This is all while wages fail to keep up with inflation.

Poverty charities have strongly criticised both the Scottish and UK Governments for not doing enough to help those most impacted by the cost of living squeeze.

Mathew Lawrence, director of the Common Wealth think tank, said Kate Forbe’s financial support package “does not go far though to protect those on low and middle incomes from the energy crisis”.

Some have defended the Scottish Government for not having enough powers to properly combat the issue while opposition parties have accused it of not using the powers it already holds.

There are things – both short-term and long-term- though that the Scottish Government can do to help ease this crisis.

Robin McAlpine from Common Weal - a pro-independence think tank that advocates for economic equality - spoke to The National to explain some of the ways Scotland could help insulate itself from future crises.

First off though, McAlpine said "devolution isn’t equipped to deal with short-term, economic crises."

He continued: “We don’t have enough control over tax. Right now we are talking about bailing out people to help them with the cost of living but by definition handing out money costs money and there are really no powers the Scottish Government has which can raise money quickly.

“We can’t borrow money for emergencies, we can’t do quantitative easing so we are limited by income taxes which is a catch 2022 because the only way you can subsidise incomes is to tax incomes.

“We could do it through council tax but that is worse because it is an unfair tax. Whatever you do with council tax it either benefits the rich or hits the poor five times more. So it is useless in this situation.

“In a crisis, it is a fiscal and macroeconomic policy you need to do bailouts. You can’t help people with the cost of living without money.

“And then there’s regulation, but Scotland doesn’t have the powers and that usually takes time.

“The basic point is Scotland can do very little but what it does can be clever.”

McAlpine said the current strategy means money will go to many people who don’t need it, meaning less is available for the hardest hit.

“You’ve got to target it to lifesaving stuff and you can’t just throw that around whether it’s politically popular or not," he said.

READ MORE: This Scottish city has seen the biggest rental price rise in the UK

“There are absolutely things you can do but you can’t do them overnight if you are a devolved government like this.

“You need to plan for the future so we don’t have these problems."


The National:

Rises in house prices are putting homeownership out of reach for many Scots

“A big cost of living issue is housing costs with all devolved governments taking a policy of inflating housing prices,” McAlpine says.

“Governments have run a housing policy for over 50s with houses but your cost of living issue could be addressed with a proper, public-rental, housebuilding programme.

“Right now Scotland’s cost of living crisis would be way less if we’d have spent 20 years treating housing as a thing that you live in rather than a financial asset.”

House prices are rising fast in the UK, with younger people renting more expensive houses and for far longer than their parents.

This means many people spend far more as a percentage of their income than the generation before them did.


The National:

Charities are warning rocketing energy bills will mean some families will choose between heating and eating

Part of a housebuilding programme with the cost of living crisis in mind would mean properly insulating homes which would reduce Scots’ soaring heating bills.

McAlpine said: “We have known forever that our inefficient housing should be properly insulated. It’s crucial for climate change but it is just incredibly wasteful. By our calculations, a properly insulated house will save 40% of your energy costs.

“People are talking about 5 or 1-% off energy bills in an emergency you could take 40% off the bills if you started properly insulating houses.”

Citizens Advice Scotland chief executive Derek Mitchell said one in three Scots are already finding bills unaffordable right now – with many pointing to heating their homes as a reason.

He explained: “There are underlying factors at play here. 640,000 people would cite low incomes as a reason for unaffordable bills, while over 380,000 people would cite hard to heat homes. That’s the long term challenge for policymakers – better-paying jobs, better-insulated homes, and increasing our use of renewable energy.”

A national energy company

The National:

Proponents of a national Scottish energy company say it would mean Scotland can harness the profits of a burgeoning renewables industry

Scotland is an energy-rich country, with fossil fuels and renewable sources providing valuable jobs. Many energy companies offer 100% renewable plans for customers too. Despite this, prices are rising fast.

As part of the plan to keep energy bills as low as possible, McAlpine says a national Scottish energy company could play a pivotal role.

He explained that while the cost of renewable energy such as wind production wasn’t rising, Scots energy bills are - due to fossil fuels.

“What a national energy company certainly could have done if we publicly owned it would take those massive profits and make them available to the Scottish Government to bail people out.”

READ MORE: What food prices are rising in the UK due to inflation?

Just last week, energy firms announced historic profits thanks to rocketing oil and gas prices.

Shell alone made £19.3 billion in profit in 2021.

Think Tank Common Wealth agreed, with director Mathew Lawrence, saying: “A long-term solution lies in an energy system that puts the public, not shareholders, first. It is vital the Scottish Government revives plans to create a publicly owned, not-for-profit energy company that can protect ordinary households and support a just transition."

Plan for future crises

The National:

The Scottish Government is urged to make smart choices now and plan for the future to avoid another crisis like this

McAlpine said: “These crises keep coming back and what we have to do in Scotland is say we cannot save people from this crisis like we would like to but what we can do is say to ourselves this is enough and after this crisis change things so we can cope with the next one.

“We can bring people’s cost of living down in Scotland with the powers we have and we never do.

“You cannot fix structural problems overnight but if you don’t fix structural problems you will have crisis after crisis.”