PARLIAMENT returned on Monday, so last week saw preparations for it. The issues this session remain much the same as before, with energy costs to the fore. There may have been a further reduction in the Energy Price Guarantee but costs still remain higher than last winter, when £400 was given to each household, and the year before that. The days when energy seemed affordable, let alone cheap, are now a distant memory.

I was therefore concerned to be contacted by fuel poverty campaigners fearful that UK Government suggestions of introducing a social tariff might be getting forgotten. A social tariff applies in many European countries, ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable have access to energy at discounted rates. The regulator OFGEM confirms it’s possible here but requires political direction.

So far that hasn’t been forthcoming. I can understand why the Treasury may not wish to provide support to every household. That may well be viewed as unaffordable and even possibly undesirable, as last winter it was also given to holiday homeowners not even resident at the time.

But ensuring that those least able to meet costs and most needing the heat and power are supported is essential. I’ve a meeting with the energy minister next week and will be seeking to ensure they deliver on this throughout winter.

The increased deaths through alcohol announced last week are also a concern. Minimum unit pricing has mitigated the harm but, to be fully effective, it needs to rise. Ireland has followed Scotland but at a price equivalent to 65p, not the 50p in Scotland, which was set almost a decade ago. But as delays in access to alcohol treatment services lengthen and addiction services face cuts, it’s absurd that the profit from the increased price stays with supermarkets.

Those funds should be hypothecated to support alcohol treatment services, not boost corporate profits.