The speech made by Drew Hendry, the SNP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2022.
Since I was first elected in 2015, I have seen things go from bad to worse for struggling people and families under the Tories in this Chamber. I used to say that people should not have to choose between heating and eating; I did not expect the Tories to take away even that option from people. We hear today that people are self-disconnecting from gas and electricity, or storing food outside their refrigerator to save money by switching it off, in dangerous circumstances. This is a dreadful time and people are facing dreadful conditions. They are unable to wash clothes or wash themselves, use cookers, or even switch on the lights. People are struggling. They are seeing energy companies put up their bills, sometimes increasing direct debits by hundreds of pounds per month, even though there is little evidence that that is required.
All this is happening, yet this Government and a complacent Ofgem are doing next to nothing. They should be doing everything in their power, yet their inaction can only lead to the conclusion that they just do not care. They ought to step in to help off-gas grid customers and businesses, because they face an even heavier burden: unregulated liquified petroleum gas and heating oil prices are rocketing, and they face cost rises three to four times greater than everyone else. Businesses off-grid are hammered, as are small and medium-sized businesses in general, who have no cap to protect them. What is the point in having a regulator that will not regulate and a Government lost in their own rhetoric?
At this time my constituents are noting a £20 per week increase in their weekly shop, which is another £80 a month that families can ill afford. Was it lunacy that this Government, knowing that people were facing rising inflation and rocketing energy prices, moved to cut the £20 a week from universal credit, or was it ideological cruelty? I will leave that to others to decide.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government have already been mitigating the imposed costs on families, spending £350 million to nullify the bedroom tax and, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), spending four times more per head on insulating houses and properties. When the UK Government took away £20 a week from families, the Scottish Government gave them the Scottish child payment of £20 a week, soon to rise to £25, providing real help through very limited powers.
What does this Chancellor do? He gives a tiny council tax cut and a payday loan. As the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) said, the UK Government do have choices. Norway, for example, an independent country similar in size to Scotland in terms of resources, will reimburse households for 80% of all their electricity costs above an affordability level. Why are the UK Government not using their powers, reserved to this place, to take meaningful action? It is because they just do not care.
Scotland is at the moment stuck with the bad choices that this place makes. The people of Scotland can now see even more clearly that when the powers lie in Scotland their Scottish Government will make the choices to protect and support them, in contrast to what happens in this place. There is a hope, however: they can see that the change our people, our families and our communities need is coming. The powers of a normal independent country are needed more than ever, and they are coming soon.