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Community / Plans for new group with focus on poverty advice

A NEW multi-agency group is set to be formed in Shetland to ensure people are getting the right advice and guidance on poverty.

It comes amid increasing concern over the cost of living – with the energy price cap for instance set to shoot up at the start of April.

News of the group was passed onto members of Shetland’s health and care partnership, the integration joint board (IJB), on Thursday.

Social work chief Denise Morgan said: “Yesterday I had a conversation with Vaila Simpson from the community planning partnership and we are going to pull a group together to look at particularly the poverty and ensure that we have the correct information going out to to families and households with advice and guidance.”

She said the council’s social work department has been keeping tabs on the situation closely for the last few months, and has been discussing the “inequalities we have in our community and the social justice issues that are arising”.

“We are certainly going to start collating feedback from the people we work with on the effect that poverty is having on their lives, so we can raise that on a more national level as well as locally,” Morgan added.

It came after board member Alex Armitage, who works as a doctor, said some families have told him they face “ruin” next winter due to the price of fuel bills.

He said there may be a “looming fuel poverty crisis” and that more people could be pushed into mental health distress as a result.

Shetland already has a high level of fuel poverty well above the national average.

A household is deemed to be in fuel poverty when more than 10 per cent of its income is spent on heating the home to a satisfactory level.

The new energy price cap, which limits how much suppliers can charge, will come into force from 1 April for households on default tariffs.

Across the UK the average price cap unit rate for electricity is set to be 28p per kWh, which is up seven pence, and for the daily standing charge that figure will be 45p – up from 25p.

But those averages are based on customers with typical usage, and those figures are likely to be higher in areas like Shetland.

Armitage expressed concern that the performance indicators for health services could be affected by the impacts of the cost of living crisis and may not paint a true picture of how staff are doing.

“How do we take those things into account when we’re measuring what we’re doing?” he asked.

Public health principal Elizabeth Robinson highlighted that the IJB needs to collaborate with the community planning partnership which may be able to do work around issues like fuel poverty – while recognising that health staff are doing they best they can.

“But I think you’ve raised an issue we would need to put more thought into,” Robinson told Armitage.