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Highland communities face ‘cost of surviving’ financial crisis according to Westminster committee

By Gregor White

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Evidence shows people in rural areas suffer the greatest levels of fuel poverty.
Evidence shows people in rural areas suffer the greatest levels of fuel poverty.

The Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster has warned that blanket UK-wide schemes intended to support households with the rising cost of living were not sufficiently “rural-proofed” and did not meet the needs of remote communities in Scotland.

“Rural premium” refers to the higher prices that communities in remote rural areas pay, relative to urban areas, to access the same goods and services.

A committee report published this week highlighted three key areas – energy, food security and transport – and finds that rising costs in each disproportionately affects rural communities.

Examples cited include exposure to fuel price inflation due to being more reliant on transport, a reliance on expensive alternative fuels for off-grid households and higher charges for food deliveries.

The committee concluded that some UK-wide schemes meant to help had prioritised administrative ease to accelerate funds getting to people rather than specifically targeting financial support for those who need it most.

Evidence submitted to the committee as part of the inquiry showed that prior to the sharp increase in fuel prices, the highest rates of fuel poverty in Scotland could be found in the most rural regions – including 33 per cent in the Highlands.

The committee heard that food insecurity had led to a “cost of surviving crisis” for some in particularly remote areas, while delayed plans to improve ferry and road infrastructure has further exacerbated difficulties.

MPs are calling for the Scottish and UK governments to work together in order to better understand the scale and complexities of the challenges facing rural communities.

Agreeing consistent definitions of food poverty and more effective collaboration to overcome transport challenges would be welcome steps forward in tackling this issue, the committee said.

Chairman, MP Pete Wishart, said: “During the cost-of-living crisis, people living in remote parts of Scotland have found themselves in a perfect storm of poorly-insulated, high energy usage homes with an extended journey to local amenities and food shopping bills off the charts.

“Schemes implemented by both the UK and Scottish governments have been welcome in large parts of Scotland, but the reality is these households have been lumbered with a ‘rural premium’ that hasn’t been adequately addressed by state support.

“We must learn the lessons from the economic challenges households have faced over the last few years.

“I hope both the UK and Scottish governments will use this time to properly understand the support these communities will need to prevent them falling further into poverty should we face similar problems in the future.”

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