LOOKING out the window at neighbours wrapped in heavy winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves – all shivering and shuffling against the biting chilly wind of storm Barra – we find ourselves reflecting that there are few more miserable experiences in life than being exposed to the cold for prolonged periods of time. It bites right into your bones, with your fingers and toes particularly susceptible to its disheartening effects.

Yet a report published this week by Citizens Advice Scotland found that one in three Scots are now worried about rising energy bills after being hit by a “triple whammy” of soaring fuel prices, falling real-term incomes and the poor insulation of their homes.

And well might they worry. For according to Energy Action Scotland more than a quarter of all households now find themselves living in fuel poverty, ie paying 10% of their income on this one bill.

That’s 613,000 families toiling to pay for the gas and electricity they need to stay warm in Scotland’s bleak mid-winter.

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The proportion is higher still in the islands and other disadvantaged communities not connected to the national gas grid. Some 275,000 households are paying more than 20% of their money on keeping themselves and their children warm!

We can apparently put sports cars into outer space in returnable rockets, we can communicate with each other worldwide in a millisecond via satellite technologies orbiting the globe, we can deploy microscopic probes into the deepest recesses of the human body. But it is apparently beyond us to ensure no child has to do her homework in a cold house, that no senior citizen has to stay in bed for days on end because they can’t afford to heat their home and no expectant mum can avoid choosing whether to heat herself or eat a warm meal.

The Scottish Government promised to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland in 2011. Ten years later, we are still waiting. This is Scotland in the 21st century and people are dying of the cold!

The late John Hills, professor of public policy at the London School of Economics, estimated that around 27,000 people in Britain die each year of “cold-related diseases” after prolonged exposure to insufficient heat in their homes. It’s not good for your heart, it’s not good for your lungs and it’s not good for your soul!

Scottish Socialist Party members, campaigning on the streets of Scotland these past few weeks, have found that anxieties over not being able to pay gas and electricity bills have been surpassed increasingly by anger at the failure of the governments at Holyrood and London to eradicate the scourge of fuel poverty once and for all.

SSP members have been out petitioning on behalf of working people in Scotland – we can be found on Princes Street, for example, four days a week as many National readers know – calling on Nicola Sturgeon to recognise that 619,000 families in Scotland are toiling to keep themselves and their families warm. And we remind the First Minister that her government promised to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland in 2011.

These are the kind of promises which, if kept, as part of a Socialist Green New Deal, can help the independence movement secure the majority we need across working-class Scotland. Unfortunately the reverse is also true.

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The Scottish Socialist Party is as committed as anyone to securing independence. And we see campaigns such as the eradication of fuel poverty in the here and now, for example being part and parcel of our message securing majority support for that different type of Scotland.

In campaigning to eradicate the scourge of fuel poverty we support the cold weather allowances (despite only kicking in after the temperature has fallen for a prolonged period of time) to all those experiencing difficulty, but would go further and pay the misnamed Warm Home Discount to all those families in need today.

We also need to go further and recognise that these one-off measures are insufficient in and of themselves to deal with the underlying problem. What is needed there is a statutory protection against fuel poverty – with households able to claim compensation from the government if ever they find their right to sufficient warmth breached.

Last but not least, we need to return our energy industry to public ownership from whence it came, and thus accelerate the drive towards renewable energy and introduce those crucial insulation programmes that play their part in eradicating the scourge of fuel poverty forever in Scotland.