Not being able to afford to live in adequate warmth and comfort in your home remains a real and persistent problem for far too many Scots, notwithstanding the best strategic intentions of successive Scottish Governments to eradicate fuel poverty from our society. Moreover, it is now widely recognised as a problem which has some particularly challenging rural dimensions to it and that is why, just over a year ago, the Scottish Government decided to set up its short-life Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force and why I was pleased to accept their invitation to become its independent Chair for the duration.
The creation of the Task Force has brought together a group of very committed people with the broad range and depth of experience required to analyse and recommend practicable and deliverable solutions to Scotland's rural fuel poverty/affordable warmth issues. I am immensely grateful to them, as well as to all those who have made presentations and submissions to the Task Force, for working so hard and constructively in the collective process of generating this evidence-based, solution-focused, 'action plan'.
Nearly a fifth of all Scots - about a million people - live in "rural" Scotland which is defined by Scottish Government as settlements of populations of 3000 or less. It is very concerning to know that over half  of Scotland's rural households are living in fuel poverty, that is they have to spend upwards of 10% of their disposable incomes on their total domestic energy usage. In remote rural Scotland fuel poverty is 63%: nearly double that of the rest of Scotland. The disadvantage is clear. It is shocking to realise that so many of these householders (23% in communities defined by Scottish Government as "remote" rural) are living in 'extreme' fuel poverty, that is they need to spend at least 20% of their incomes - often much more - on trying to keep their homes warm enough. This is a significantly higher level than is found on average in Scotland (9%) and demands serious and urgent attention.
The differing contributory causes and recommended remedial actions are examined and laid out in this report, but the effects on peoples' lives are much the same - cold homes, exacerbated health issues, much higher than presumed 'average' fuel bills, especially in inherently extra-costly off-gas areas, with no little stress and hardship resulting for the households concerned and which can then even push people into making choices like 'self-disconnection' or 'eating or heating' which are wholly unacceptable in a modern, civilised society. It simply won't do.
Rural Scotland needs and deserves a level 'affordable warmth playing field', one where it will receive an effective and equitable deal from the new fuel poverty strategy that the Scottish Government will be laying before the Scottish Parliament. The Task Force therefore welcomes the commitments which Scottish Government has already given in its National Performance Framework to "embedding equality considerations in all aspects of (its) policy development and decision-taking", "ensuring that public funds are invested with a focus on deprivation and equality".
This report is intended to provide a clear and constructive guide to both Scottish Government and The Scottish Parliament on how they can lead the way in tackling the rural dimensions to fuel poverty. Central to this will be the need for a statutory framework for delivery with full Parliamentary scrutiny of the progress made in Scotland's rural and remote communities.
However, we fully recognise that at a strategic, national level the UK Government, utility companies and Ofgem, all have crucial roles to play too and this report highlights the actions that we believe they should also take if, collectively, we are to eliminate the scourge of rural fuel poverty. In addition, there are excellent local community providers of advice, remedy and support whose work deserves greater recognition and enhanced Government funding with expansion in some rural areas. The Task Force wishes all concerned well in this critically important and shared endeavour.
Di Alexander, Task Force Chairman, October 2016