The cost of remoteness - reflecting higher living costs in remote rural Scotland when measuring fuel poverty: research report

This report estimates the percentage uplift required in remote rural areas of Scotland to calculate fuel poverty.

3 Method: applying the Minimum Income Standard approach to remote rural Scotland

As described in Chapter 2, the Minimum Income Standard is the income required for a household to meet a minimum socially acceptable standard of living as defined by members of the public living in that society. As with the main MIS research, decisions about what this standard of living should enable people in remote rural Scotland to have and do were made through deliberative discussions among residents of these areas. Participants from a particular demographic group (working age adults without children, parents or pensioners) negotiated and reached consensus on what households in that group would need in order to meet the definition of a minimum standard of living central to MIS. Pensioners discussed the needs of singles and couples in retirement, working age adults without dependent children discussed working age needs and parents discussed the needs of parents and children.

The fieldwork for this research comprised 18 three-hour groups, six with working age adults without children, six with parents and six with pensioners. One of each type of group was held in each of three island and three mainland locations between 26 October 2020 and 31 March 2021 (see table below). There were 125 participants in total; an average of seven participants per group. Each group included people from a range of backgrounds, housing tenure and income sources (work, pension and/or benefits). As a result of the pandemic, the groups originally scheduled for location-based in-person fieldwork were all held online via Zoom.


  • Working age adults (no children): 3 groups (one in each location)
  • Families with children: 3 groups (one in each location)
  • Pensioners: 3 groups (one in each location)


  • Working age adults (no children): 3 groups (one in each location)
  • Families with children: 3 groups (one in each location)
  • Pensioners: 3 groups (one in each location)

Participants reviewed the lists of items required for a minimum socially acceptable standard of living agreed by groups in urban areas of the UK in 2020, and were asked if and how the lists needed to be amended in order to reach the equivalent standard for people living in their location. The UK lists were developed by groups held before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and so were not affected by changes in what people were able to do, where they could go or how they could access goods and services. In order to compare like with like, participants in the groups for this study were asked to reflect on life pre- (and hopefully post-) COVID-19.


In recruiting research participants, the Scottish researchers on our team used their extensive networks of contacts to reach out to the selected locations via phone calls, emails and social media. They issued press releases and liaised between the MIS researchers and local media to get local radio and press coverage of the research as part of the recruitment drive. In areas where there were particular elements of the sample that needed boosting the researchers purchased electoral roll data and contacted households directly that were likely to fit the relevant criteria.

In remote rural Scotland, strong networks of community and social enterprises have been strengthened by the local responses to the COVID pandemic in Scotland. As a result, researchers were able to tap into strong local networks to aid with recruitment, and also to target some groups that would otherwise have been hard to reach at a distance. However, some community contacts were harder to reach – particularly where remote working and web based contact details were not up to date. Snowballing and using other community contacts helped to overcome this. In some locations Community Councils were very helpful.

Communities that had a strong social media presence were easier to recruit from. This was especially apparent in some island locations, which had websites that focused on local news and events that were widely read. Recruitment via print media was less successful in all but one location.

Conducting the fieldwork online

All participants had to commit to a three-hour online meeting and feel sufficiently comfortable with the technology to be able to take part. This was relatively straightforward for those who had used online platforms while working from home or socialising during lockdown. It may have made participation easier for those parents who would have needed to arrange childcare in order to attend a group held in person, although in some areas there were potential participants who could not participate due to poor/no broadband.

It represented a greater challenge for those who were less familiar with the technology, particularly older people, although during the pandemic many of this demographic group have become used to attending church, committee meetings, book groups and exercise classes virtually over the last year. It was harder to recruit those in older age groups (80+), who were less likely to have used computers during their working lives, but there were some who were willing to participate, sometimes with support from a partner or relative.

All participants were offered the opportunity to practise joining an online meeting with one of the recruiters in advance of attending the group, and one or both of the recruiters often attended the groups, especially at the start of the group, to make sure that people managed to connect and access the meeting. If anyone was struggling with the technology a recruiter would phone them to support them through the process.

The lead researcher from our Scottish team (based in the Scottish Highlands) attended all the island-based groups and at least one group in each mainland location to ensure that we captured sufficient levels of detail on local suppliers and providers needed for the re-costing items within the budgets. Having a locally based team member with excellent knowledge of the research locations helped to clarify place names, distances between locations mentioned by the group and relevant local facilities and amenities. This transfer of knowledge and understanding of local context was invaluable as the research team were unable to visit the areas we were recruiting and researching in to acquire this knowledge first hand.

Most people attended using a laptop, tablet or PC. Some people used their mobile phones, which meant that they were not able to see all the others in the group at the same time. However, the type of device being used appeared to make no difference to people's engagement or ability to contribute to group discussion. The groups were recorded using Zoom, but only the audio files were retained for transcription, replicating the standard MIS practice of audio-recording group discussions.

The lists of goods and services were amended following the group discussions and priced in May 2021 according to the retailers and sources identified by groups. This produced budgets for a range of household types – single and partnered working age people, single and partnered pensioners, and partnered parents with one pre-school and one primary school child. We then compared the MIS remote rural Scotland budgets to MIS urban UK budgets for 2021 to assess the differences both overall and within budget areas. (Even though MIS budgets were last compiled for the urban UK in 2020 for households with children and in 2018 for other households, consumer price indices are used to uprate these budgets annually.)



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