Fighting with one arm tied: Fuel poverty and price capping in Scotland

Forth in Lanarkshire

In 2017, 24.9% of homes in Scotland were in fuel poverty while in England only 10.9% were.

There is a huge injustice in this.

The Scottish Government tries to tackle fuel poverty with one arm tied. It has some control over fuel benefits and can fund energy efficiency schemes but it has no ability to regulate the cost of fuel charged by the energy companies. The Conservative UK Government does not prioritise this.

In general, fuel poverty relates to households that must spend a high proportion of their household income to keep their home at a reasonable temperature. Fuel poverty is affected by three key factors: a household’s income, their energy consumption (which in turn can be affected by the energy efficiency of the dwelling) and their fuel costs.

In Scotland fuel poverty is generally measured on the basis that, in order to maintain a satisfactory heat regime, it would be required to spend more than 10% of household income on fuel.

Scotland has within it some of the areas of the worst fuel poverty in the UK. There is a deep injustice in this.

Many of these areas, ironically, are in the communities still living above the great coalfields which powered the economy for centuries, and/or close to the windfarms powering the economy today.

Adding to this sense of injustice, these windfarms now play a major part in the transfer of electricity from Scotland to other parts of the UK, which as of April 2020, stands annually at 25 000 Gigawatts per hour, enough to heat 700 000 homes!

Scotland’s average minimum January temperature is 0.2 degrees C below freezing while in England it is 1.2 degrees C above freezing.

This matters for health outcomes. According to research published in June 2020:

‘Cold temperatures are strongly related to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and double the risk of respiratory problems in children. Cold also supresses the immune system, increasing the risk of infections and minor illnesses such as colds and flu. Living in poverty also exacerbates existing conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism and negatively affects mental health by increasing the financial stress on households..

91% of those who have died from the effects of Covid-19 had a pre-existing condition including commonly, chronic lower respiratory disease.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has warned that “fuel poverty puts households more at risk from the worst effects of Covid-19” … “Reducing preventable ill health arising from cold homes will be vital in protecting NHS and care services this winter.”

Scottish Government action

Key Points:

There are three main elements to tackling fuel poverty:

  • household income
  • energy efficiency/use
  • the price of fuel

The SNP is committed to tackling the first and second of these at the same time.

Household income

A number of actions to reduce the impact of Westminster austerity policies have been implemented in Scotland and widely praised by both the United Nations and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

These include:

  1. The Scottish Child Payment coming into effect from February 2021 which will provide families on low incomes to benefit from a payment for each child under the age of six with a payment for each child of £10 per week. which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have said could make a significant contribution to tackling child poverty in Scotland.
  2. The Scottish Welfare Fund which paid out £35 million to people in crisis in 2017/18
  3. The Community Care Grants which paid out £25 million to help with one-off costs to purchase essential household items..
  4. Since its launch in 2013 an annual package of over £125 million has been paid to mitigate against the impact of UK Government welfare cuts including the bedroom tax, two child benefit cap, 5-week wait and the sanctions regime

With specific regard to fuel poverty, the Scottish Government aims to reduce it to no more than 5% and extreme fuel poverty to no more than 1%, by 2040, but is constrained by its current partial control over benefits and the levers of the economy.

  • In relation to poverty generally, Even with the temporary £20pw increase to the UC standard allowance that the UK Gov call ‘generous’, people out of work today are still £1000 per year worse off compared to 2011 according to the JRF.  
  • Despite repeated calls for this uplift to be continued after April 2012 the Government has refused to confirm whether this uplift will continue and whether those currently excluded will be included.

Energy efficiency/use

Using Scottish Government funding and advice, both East and South Ayrshire Councils have had external wall insulation fitted to improve energy efficiency, lower costs and to improve health outcomes. In South Ayrshire a programme to fit external wall insulation to 1,900 properties, saved more than £400 000 on fuel bills per year and reduced admissions rates for respiratory and cardiovascular related conditions in these areas compared with a control group of postcodes who had not yet participated in the scheme.

The price of fuel

The Scottish Government has no power or influence over the cost of fuel.

Despite Scotland’s energy generation, produced by oil, gas and renewables way beyond its own domestic demand, mentioned earlier, energy prices for consumers remain high according research by Age Scotland. Price capping has made little difference for them[1]

While progress has been made by Scottish Government in tackling fuel poverty and in improving energy efficiency, the constraints of the devolution, with 85% of welfare expenditure and income-replacement benefits reserved, prevents the kind of structural change and investment required in a country which has a harsher climate and which, ironically, generates far more power than it requires.

Meaningful change requires that the powers in relation to the level of benefits, the ability to cap energy prices to affordable levels, and the control of economic levers which address not only fuel poverty but poverty overall are held in Scotland.

Independence is the solution.


15 thoughts on “Fighting with one arm tied: Fuel poverty and price capping in Scotland

  1. Wonder how long the regime in Saudi Arabia
    Would last if a high % of its citizens were unable to fuel their automobiles

    Ah but we here in Scotland will soon attend to our fuel poverty our citizens experience for once and for all
    It is our energy and no one else’s
    Full Stop

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have thought for some time that the ability to heat and eat should be a fundamental human right in a Nordic country like Scotland.
    Of course,when policy is dictated by a government which does not relate to those climatic conditions,that isn’t going to happen.
    Being ruled by aliens from planet Tory isn’t much fun.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. They, Westminster, will steal everything and anything they can from Scotland. Starting with our people, they have asset-stripped our country for many years, and it will continue unabated until independence.
    Our natural resources have been, and are being plundered. At the moment it’s electricity. Soon it will be water, with the ” Natural Grid ” project under way.
    Theft on a grand scale. Well, are we going to do anything about it?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I recall from c1970s, when ‘cold weather payments were introduced. They were allocated on a sliding scale which was based on the difference between the average temperature for the relevant period of the current year and the average temperature for the same period over the past five years.

    So, if you lived in, say, Aberdeenshire and the temperature dropped to say, -5 degrees and the average for the period for the previous five years was, say, -3 degrees, you were given the cold weather payment due for a 2 degree drop.

    However, if you lived in, say, Derbyshire and the temperature dropped to, say, -3 degrees, but the 5 year average was +2 degrees, you were given the payment for a 5 degree drop.

    So, someone living in a different part of the UK, where the temperature was higher would het a HIGHER cold weather payment than in a place where the temperatures were, on average, lower – i.e. the most northerly parts, i.e. in Scotland.

    When this anomaly was pointed out to a Government minister, he justified it by say, “Well people in these parts are used to lower temperatures, so they can cope better. Their houses ought to be built to deal with that.” When it was then pointed out that the estate cottages and council houses and private rented accommodation were no more thermally efficient than similar elsewhere, he replied, “As I said, these people are used to lower temperatures.”

    I cannot recall if it was a Labour or Tory Government at the time, because each had 5 years during the 70s.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. To be fair, people who lived in places like Cumbria, or the North Yorks Moors, the Peak District, Cornwall, the Brecon Beacons, which also get low winter temperatures, were also discriminated against. Shepard have adapted to these places so why have the people not????

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  5. People in the highlands pay a surcharge for electricity because of the high charges to the generators to put electricity into the grid.
    In London they pay the generators to put electricity into the grid.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The malignity of Conservative governments towards the poor can be seen south of the border as well.

    Kettle packs are given out at food banks for people who can’t afford to cook a hot meal. Some can’t boil a kettle. some can’t choose between heat or eat: they can do neither.

    https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/desperate-shopkeeper-facing-huge-energy-4348990

    David Pickard told the inquest: “He clearly felt he should have been given more time to pay. He said, “You will have to do it,” referring to us de-energising the electricity supply. But he was getting more anxious ans said, “I will hang myself”.I thought it was just a throwaway comment, an idle threat. In my line of work I hear people say it quite regularly and think nothing of it.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/09/david-clapson-benefit-sanctions-death-government-policies

    “The coroner said that when David Clapson died he had no food in his stomach. Clapson’s benefits had been stopped as a result of missing one meeting at the jobcentre. He was diabetic, and without the £71.70 a week from his jobseeker’s allowance he couldn’t afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge where he kept his insulin working. Three weeks later Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a severe lack of insulin. A pile of CVs was found next to his body.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We know that Sam many of us are from south of the border. But, the people in England can actually vote out the party that is imposing poverty on them, or even get organised and set up a new social democratic party akin to the SNP, not easy I know but it’s doable.
      Sorry but it is the people of England who have voted for the Tories and Brexit not the people of Scotland. The point is of course that Scotland is a nation, being stolen from to the tune of £billions, £trillions over the years of having their oil thieved. It’s bloody tragic and has to stop!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Glad to hear S&E Ayrshire got some external cladding before EU funding assistance dried up, the Tory view on home insulation will now prevail – it’s up to the home owner.
    Abandoning the national energy saving programmes of the 1960s was short-sighted before global-warming hove into view, now England are in the ludicrous position of being a net energy importer with penalties applied to Scottish export, and then there’s Hinkley.
    Even my modest but very modern home saw gas and electricity halved through DIYing additional insulation and lowering power demand (payback 1 year), cheap and simple.
    Now imagine halving household energy consumption nationally, CO2 emissions hammered, financial burden on families eased, freeing up money which could regenerate local economies.
    The Tories only look to tax receipts, share prices and protecting energy provider incomes, a very different economy to that they purport to champion.
    Post independence, Scotland needs a national insulation programme rolled out, and with the penalties on energy export to England annulled, to paraphrase a Pre, England will pay for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. People’s Energy.

    https://peoplesenergy.co.uk/about/blog/tackling-fuel-poverty-with-east-lothian-council

    I spoke to People’s Energy just over a year ago. I suggested to them that there might be a deal to be done with the Council. In return for a business contract the company might reduce tariffs for certain groups in E Lothian.

    I spoke to the Council covering the same ground.

    Now, I have not looked at the nature of the deal so I am uncertain if it offers the proper support one might want in fighting fuel poverty. One thing the company does offer customers is to rerturn to them 75% of profits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am with them, they are very good but don’t do the special needs type
      grant payments over winter if on benefits. Their tariffs are good, have paid a lot more for sure with Eng company especially when one I was with went bust. People’s energy are doing well they have many more customers now, 100% renewable sourced, the energy I mean not the customers lol!

      Like

  9. I will come back to this, it’s my area of interest among others re Scotland’s resources. Meanwhile here’s a bit of light reading…
    The er UK ‘National Grid’ is now owned by the US National grid.

    https://www.nationalgrid.com/our-businesses/our-uk-businesses

    I have read a tiny bit about this, it looks like much of the infrastructure upgrade is taking in place in England, to accomodate more renewables which is required to keep the lights on, not so sure but upgrade to infrastructure in Scotland not so much, I guess it will be done last, as usual…though Scotland is by far the biggest producer of renewable energy in the UK.
    This is great site, UK wide, lots about Scotland as well, but you have to register to access some of for eg all news re Scotland, but it’s easy peasy to do. Worth keeping up with anyways.

    https://www.energylivenews.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is most certainly in Westminster,s interests
      To thwart the massive potential of Scottish renewable sources
      We are all now too well aware how they abused the oil revenues
      And now they are all too well aware what a booming revenue rich Scotland can do
      All leading to a very real socio economic divide that English citizens would also feel the effects of

      Like

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