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
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.
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.
- 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.
- The Scottish Welfare Fund which paid out £35 million to people in crisis in 2017/18
- The Community Care Grants which paid out £25 million to help with one-off costs to purchase essential household items..
- 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.
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
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.