Cefin Campbell MS' recent column for the Llanelli Standard newspaper
There’s no denying that from our local food shop to our energy bills, from the rise in National Insurance contributions to the price of petrol at the pump, we are facing a cost of living crisis.
These spiralling costs – which are not reflected in incomes - may soon overtake Covid as the biggest crisis we face over the coming year, plunging many more families into poverty and mental ill-health.
Here in Carmarthenshire, the most recent Welsh Government estimates found that almost 15% of households already live in fuel poverty – many facing the unenviable choice of putting food on the table or heating their homes. As energy prices rise in April, it is likely that these families will be again hit hardest – with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation finding that those earning the least could end up spending 54% of their household income on energy bills.
Sadly, Westminster inaction has merely exacerbated the situation – pouring further fuel onto the proverbial fire that is hurting our households. The cruel decision late last year to scrap the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit drastically hurt many – with 7,600 families in the Llanelli constituency alone hit by the cut. More frustrating was the Tories’ rejection last month of a call for VAT to be cut on energy bills – with 11 of the 13 Welsh Conservative MPs voting against the measure that would have helped alleviate at least some of the mounting pressure on our pensioners, families and small businesses.
Whilst the key levers remain in the hands of the Tories at Westminster, the Welsh Government is not powerless in the face of this storm. In November, in anticipation of a hike in living costs, I pressed the Minister to further enhance the support available for families facing fuel poverty. I particularly welcomed the recent announcement of the Winter Fuel Fund that will provide a one-off £100 payment for eligible households to help meet fuel costs. Applications are open until February 18th 2022, and I would urge everyone to check the eligibility criteria on the Welsh Government website.
Amidst the growing poverty crisis, child poverty remains poignantly pertinent – with 1 in 3 children in Wales living in poverty. With these hardships facing so many families, I was particularly pleased that in my party’s recent Co-Operation Agreement with the Welsh Government, Plaid Cymru secured a commitment to deliver free school meals for all primary school children. With the roll out set to begin in September, I do hope it will provide some support and relief to some of you facing the squeeze, as this cost of living crisis continues.
Politicians in Westminster and in Cardiff have a key role to play in addressing this crisis head-on. I will certainly do my best to press for the greatest possible support for families and households as this crisis continues to unravel. In the meantime, in order for me to better understand the situation and the pressures so many are facing I’m eager to hear from you about your own experiences - so please send me an e-mail on [email protected]. Diolch.