Tackling the cost of living

Susan Rae argues that Edinburgh Council must do more to help those struggling with the soaring cost of living.

The biggest fall in living standards since records began. The largest hike in interest rates for a quarter of a century. Inflation expected to hit double digits. The bad economic news just keeps on coming – this is the Tory cost-of-living crisis.

This crisis will impact everyone in our city, but some more than others. The cost of fundamental essentials, housing, food and energy continue to rise while for many households, incomes are either static or falling in real terms. As usual this will hit hardest on people on low and fixed incomes. Food isn’t a luxury. Heating your home is essential for health and wellbeing. And putting a roof over your family’s heads is not an optional extra. Those who are well-off may ride out the forthcoming storm, but yet again the poorest will struggle to survive.

Yet we’ve seen the two contenders in the Tory leadership election completely fail to address the cost-of-living crisis that their own party created. Instead they pander to their party’s right wing with ever more desperate statements on tax cuts or immigration. They will never have to deal with the panic and pain of poverty and their goal is to ensure that they will never have to. Poverty is for other people. Not Conservatives.

Recent research has shown that the cost-of-living crisis has been made worse by deliberate policies pursued by the Tory Government. Energy bills are an estimated £2.5bn higher than they should have been over the last decade because the Tories slashed investment in the energy efficiency of our homes. In contrast, Green cooperation in the Scottish Government has resulted in the biggest boost to energy efficiency ever seen in Scotland. With soaring energy prices, the need to insulate our draughty homes in order to reduce heating demand has never been more urgent.

Greens are taking further action at Holyrood to address the Tory cost-of-living crisis. We have delivered free bus travel for young people, have doubled the Scottish Child Payment, and increased support for councils to mitigate the impact of the cruel Tory benefit cap. But we must see action at a council level too: wherever the council has powers to address the Tory cost-of-living crisis, we should do so.

That’s why I have been pushing at Housing Committee to ensure that the £80 million in unclaimed benefits does not remain unclaimed. These are benefits Edinburgh residents are entitled to, but which they simply haven’t collected. Improving uptake of benefits would increase household incomes and would help tackle the crisis. Greens have also been pushing for more action from the council on energy efficiency, crisis grants and writing off school meal debt, to name just three.

Meanwhile the Tories have failed to take action in response to the fossil fuel industry’s record profits; have cut universal credit and have introduced the cruel benefit cap. This is a crisis of the Tories’ making.

And yet these are precisely the same Tories that the Labour administration at Edinburgh Council has relied on for support in putting them into power. How can this Labour administration seriously claim to be tackling poverty and the Tory cost-of-living crisis, when they rely on the very party which created that poverty for their votes in council? Strange bedfellows indeed.

Susan Rae is the Scottish Green Party councillor for Leith Walk and Edinburgh Greens’ spokesperson on Housing.