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by Staff reporter
24 January 2024
Cost-of-living support failed to meet needs of rural communities, MPs say

Those living in remote areas face a 'rural premium' on bills | Alamy

Cost-of-living support failed to meet needs of rural communities, MPs say

Efforts by both the Scottish and UK government to mitigate the worst impacts of the cost-of-living crisis failed to take into account the disproportionate impact rising bills were having on rural communities, a cross-party committee of MPs has concluded.

The House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee has published a report saying neither government sufficiently “rural-proofed” schemes to support hoseholds.

Pointing to the higher transport costs and energy bills faced by those living in rural Scotland, MPs said both governments prioritised administrative ease over targeted delivery.

The report argues that financial support should have been tailored towards remote communities who face the so-called rural premium in order to relieve acute pressures.

Committee chair Pete Wishart said: “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.”

The report urges both government to agree on consistent definitions of food poverty, collaborate on infrastructure challenges, and work together to better understand issues faced by rural communities going forward.

It also said the UK Government should review the effectiveness and value for money of the cost-of-living support provided during the winter of 2022-23. MPs also said off-grid households faced “unacceptably long waits” for payment.

The need to improve home energy efficiency was also highlighted and MPs noted that the Scottish Government had underspent its ring-fenced funding in this area.

The Scottish Affairs Committee includes representatives from all four major parties, with three SNP MPs, five Conservative MPs, two Lib Dem MPs and one Labour MP.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross – who sits on the committee – said the report was a “damning verdict” on the Scottish Government’s record on rural communities.

He said: “The report makes it clear that the SNP government’s overwhelming failure to deliver on a number of areas is having a devastating effect on rural communities and businesses… Those failures make it all the more shocking that not a single SNP minister made themselves available to be scrutinised by the committee. They clearly didn't feel they could defend their record in office and the committee report highlights just some of the areas they have failed on.”

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