Gordon Brown says Scots facing cost of living 'catastrophe'

17 March 2022, 00:01

Gordon Brown has said governments must work together to tackle cost of living crisis.
Gordon Brown has said governments must work together to tackle cost of living crisis. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Gordon Brown has demanded Holyrood and Westminster work together to tackle the cost of living crisis as he predicted the number of Scots living in fuel poverty could rocket to nearly 1.3 million.

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A poll of more than 2000 Scots for the former Labour Prime Minister's think tank, Our Scottish Future, found that that 40 per cent of people already rate their finances as "tight" or "struggling".

Nearly half - 48 per cent - also fear they will be worse off over the next 12 months as a result of rising energy and food bills, which they believe will have a worse impact on their finances than the Covid pandemic.

As a result, Mr Brown called on the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to scrap the planned National Insurance rise and benefit cuts in next week's spring budget and for the Scottish and UK governments to work together to bring down energy costs.

He also suggested the UK government be invited to work with the Scottish National Investment Bank to bankroll a new renewables industry.

His polling comes as a second survey - by consumer organisation Which? of 1000 Scots - found 86 per cent are worried about energy prices - a huge increase on the 59 per cent who told the Consumers in Scotland survey they were concerned last year.

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Which? has also estimated that Scots will spend an extra £21.13 per week on food and energy in April 2022 compared to March 2020 - adding around £1,100 extra per year to household bills.

Revealing his polling, Mr Brown - who was also Labour Chancellor from 1997 to 2007 - cited research which shows that the estimated number of people in Scotland in fuel poverty will shoot up from 750,000 people to 1.3 million, or 40 per cent of Scots.

He said the public wanted to see “cooperation - not confrontation” between their two governments and added: "What is needed is a plan that makes Britain work for the people of Scotland that starts by solving the cost of living crisis now and then in the years to come by employing all the resources of the UK to the benefit of Scotland.

"April will be the cruellest month of all as food and fuel prices rise and hit family budgets harder than at any time in 50 years.

"Neither the UK nor the Scottish Governments are doing enough. And what’s more they are not bothering to cooperate when together they should be making a sustained impact on poverty across our land.”

He said the cost of living crisis would be "with us for years" and a sea-change was needed in how the Scottish and UK governments worked together.

His poll, carried out by Stack Data Strategy, also found 47 per cent said they would support a “serious plan to change Britain” rather than Scotland becoming independent, while 22 per cent disagreed.

The former Labour leader also wants SNP ministers to rethink their "flawed" council tax rebate as the £150 reduction doesn't help the poorest the most. A different approach, he said, could have resulted in the worse off gaining £600 to help their financial situation.

He added: "People prefer a plan for Scotland to deal with this crisis in which we mobilise all the resources of Britain.

"In the short term, that means that we need to offer help with heating and living costs to give much needed relief to families – well beyond the insufficient offer made by UK and Scottish governments so far."

He added: "Co-operation between Scotland and the UK - not confrontation or conflict between the two - is essential for the near-term recovery of Scotland and for the medium and long term prosperity of the Scottish people.

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"One demand all could unite around is to restore the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift taken from six million families only a few months ago – worth £1000 a year."

But he said the Scottish Government must also fundamentally change their own plan which was a "copy" of the Conservatives in Westminster.

"They should at least double the money they have so far made available, directing the bulk of funds to the poorest and frailest who need it most."

Mr Brown along with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and a host of leaders of English councils and metro mayors, has now written to the Chancellor demanding “a UK-wide change of policy on tax, benefit levels and heating help”.

The letter said: “At stake is unacceptable and avoidable suffering for millions of our fellow citizens - and especially for millions of children - across our communities."

Asked if he had approached Nicola Sturgeon to sign his letter, Mr Brown said he hoped more people would add their names to it ahead of the budget, but it had been initiated as a Labour letter.

On the Scottish National Investment Bank he said it "has only £200m a year to spend and yet far greater challenges than that for new investments."

He added: “We should invite the UK Government to be an equal partner in the Scottish National Investment Bank, using all the resources of Britain to make Scotland an export superpower in renewables, life sciences, digital and manufacturing.”