Scottish Highlands: How unfair bills are leaving pockets empty and tables bare

Donald Stewart is a single parent with six children aged between 10 and 20. He runs a small laundry and ironing business in the village of Kyleakin, on the Isle of Skye.

Laundry business owner Donald Stewart, a single parent to six children, is one of many rural Scots who are fearful for the future as they struggle to pay the highest bills in the UK
Laundry business owner Donald Stewart, a single parent to six children, is one of many rural Scots who are fearful for the future as they struggle to pay the highest bills in the UK

My wife died in 2020 after a long battle with cancer, leaving me as the sole provider for our young family. Her death also coincided with the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, which saw our business closed during lockdown.

The generosity and love of our community, giving financial and practical help, went a long way in carrying us through those sad and lonely days – it put money in my wallet and food on our table. Evening meals were prepared for us and money raised through an online appeal. This money, with six kids to maintain, a mortgage and arrears to pay, enabled us to survive the brutal realities of that first pandemic year.

When government coronavirus restrictions lifted, it was with heavy hearts that myself and two of my daughters picked up our irons and started to trade again. Business was steady, and by August 2021 we had doubled in size. I was working up to 18 hours a day to meet demand.

But while the business was prospering, the spiraling cost of living saw profits seriously depleted. Household bills for food, electricity and heating oil have all increased.

There is very limited public transport where we live, so a car is a necessity, not an ornament. But increasing cost at the pumps – fuel recently topped £2 per litre – means we restrict its use to primarily work journeys.

Now winter is coming and our business season will end, but our need for warmth, food and clothing will continue. As the price of all these basic amenities continues to rocket, it will be difficult for me and many other families in rural areas to provide for our loved ones and our standard of living will fall further.

The profits of an elite few stand in direct contrast to the poverty of the many in our nation. The people of the Highlands and Islands have long been exploited. Where once they were exported abroad to be replaced by more lucrative sheep, during the Clearances, today we are being exploited to line the pockets of international energy companies.

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