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.

4 Explaining differences

The needs of households living in remote rural Scotland are in many respects similar to those living in urban locations across the UK. There are, however, some key differences, in particular in the budget elements relating to:

  • Food and drink
  • Clothing
  • Household goods and services
  • Transport
  • Social and cultural participation, particularly holidays

This chapter summarises the rationales given by groups to explain these differences and justify changes to budgets. It shows how the discussions and deliberations of groups highlighted differences linked to geographical location, reporting the rationales for changes made to the UK MIS lists of goods and services. These discussions identified ways in which additional costs can arise not just from higher prices in remote areas, but also from the need to exercise choice in how goods and services are accessed, an important aspect of life that can have cost implications for those living in smaller communities.

Food and drink

Groups agreed with the existing MIS UK model for food requirements and purchase, where possible buying food consumed at home in a weekly shop from a supermarket. For people living outside a town with a supermarket, this would be supplemented with top-ups of some day-to-day items such as bread and milk, from a small local store.

Groups also discussed eating out and takeaways – a small budget is included in UK MIS to enable households with children to eat out as a family four times a year, and pensioner and working age households without children to eat out from time to time and as well as having an occasional takeaway. Groups agreed with this model in all locations, and for working age adults without children the flexibility of £15 per person per fortnight for a takeaway or meal out was thought to be sufficient. For pensioners the more modest £10 for takeaways in UK MIS (based on smaller portions, for example sharing a large fish and a portion of chips) was increased to £15 in line with the amount included for working age adults without children. Groups said that there was less choice available and fewer or no cheap fast food or takeaway vendors in their vicinity so increased the budget to reflect the higher prices charged. For the couple with two children, the larger family group benefits from economies of scale, meaning that for them £10 per adult and school aged child and £5 for the preschool child would be sufficient for an occasional meal outside the home – an increase of £4 per adult and school aged child and £2 more for the preschool child compared to urban UK MIS.


Groups thought that the clothing lists did not need revision for the most part, but increased the amount and/or quality of waterproof and weatherproof clothing and added some thermal underwear to reflect more severe weather conditions than in urban UK. Island groups said that people would buy some clothing on-island, some online and the remainder during trips to the mainland where they could access a wider range of stores, greater choice and 'stock up' at inexpensive retailers like Primark and H&M (which is where much of the clothing in UK MIS is priced). Mainland groups said that they would access the same range of clothing and footwear on shopping trips to larger cities every month or two. These trips were included in the mileage calculations in the transport budget.

Household goods

The main difference for many of the household goods was which retailers they should be priced at. This was particularly the case for island households who did not have access to the same range of shops and outlets as those on the mainland, and who could not access them without incurring significant costs either through travel or delivery.

Participants in the island groups discussed the benefits of shopping on-island where possible, including supporting local businesses and experiencing a higher standard of after-sales care from local retailers. Goods bought online, especially larger items, could arrive late and/or damaged, and trying to arrange for their return was extremely problematic, particularly for large items. Some thought that almost everything could be found on-island, and some items, for example flooring, were said to be competitively priced locally. However, there was consensus that it was not unusual to have to pay a higher price in island stores than on the mainland, although the quality of these goods may be higher. An appropriate adjustment was made to the lifetime of larger items to take account of this.

Mainland participants in smaller communities were more likely to travel to larger towns and cities in order to have a wider selection from which to choose, particularly for clothing, shoes and electrical goods, and built in occasional trips by car to do so. Island households were likely to combine a mainland shopping trip with a longer stay for visiting and recreation to minimise travel costs and get the best value for money from the trip.

Groups discussed the differences that weather made to what was needed for remote households and added a small number of items. Working age groups without children and pensioner groups added a small oil-filled heater to provide an economical direct source of heat, either to supplement existing central heating, or to take the chill off when the weather was colder but not cold enough to require the central heating to be turned on. (We take account only of the cost of purchasing this heater, not of running it, since fuel costs are excluded from our calculations). Working age groups with and without children added a hot water bottle per person for similar reasons; pensioners discussed the merits of hot water bottles and electric blankets and decided that the latter would be more suitable for their needs.

Discussion of the colder, wetter climate also featured in discussions about laundry. Groups agreed that all households needed a tumble dryer for use during colder months and inclement weather, which differs from MIS UK where only households with three or more children require this item. Participants talked about the difficulties of getting washing dry indoors when it couldn't be hung outside.

Man: It's moisture that gets into your environment of your kitchen and your small flat so it could lead to health issues. Some of the older flats in the private rented sector need some work done to them. They're hard to heat in the winter so you get condensation problems. You might be in good health now, but you could soon be in poor health. Working age group, Mainland

Woman: I live in a flat and I have got storage heaters so I have nowhere outside to hang clothes and nowhere inside, I don't have the space really to put clothes anywhere, I have to have a tumble drier.

Man: It is a need to have up here. Parents group, Island

Woman: I have a tumble drier and I don't use it all the time but I tend to use it in winter because it's too damn cold to go outside and hang the washing. Pensioners group, Island

As well as the practicalities of getting laundry dry, participants also mentioned possible negative consequences of trying to dry clothes indoors year-round and island parents' groups included a dehumidifier for households with children in recognition that houses with more occupants might have a greater need for this item to prevent damp.

Weather could also affect access to groceries. Island groups discussed the need for a small additional freezer for each household as supplies could be disrupted by bad weather, so it was important to be able to freeze provisions to tide people over until the shops could restock.

Man 1: If the ferry doesn't sail you need a larger freezer sometimes just to actually have some extra provisions in just in case.

Man 2: When it doesn't sail three or four times every winter, we go two days without fridge lorries coming onto the island. Working age group, Island

The above discussion identifies certain goods such as oil heaters and tumble driers that are also associated with higher energy costs, but since domestic fuel spending is not covered in this research, it is only the cost of the goods themselves that are being captured here.

Household services

This category includes costs for phones, internet, postage and delivery. For the most part the requirements for these items remained unchanged. However, groups discussed the expense of paying higher delivery charges (as mentioned above), which could sometimes be greater than the cost of the item itself, and also the cost of returning items ordered online by post and sending items to family and friends who did not live locally. They agreed a budget of £20 a month per household for both island and mainland households to enable people to afford to send and receive the things they needed to.

Woman: Postage is an absolute killer and clothes in particular, I really hate online shopping for clothes because I really want to see things in the flesh and if I am choosing something I want to get it because I like it, not because there are free returns. There might be a firm that does give you that option, but if it is not giving you want you really want then I wouldn't go for that. I would rather pay for return postage and take that chance. Working age group, Island

Woman: Things like IKEA, quite often people similar to me would probably order a lot of their furniture from IKEA and the delivery charge for that is really, really expensive. Quite often it's more than what you're actually spending on buying, but you're in a little trap because what you're maybe trying to buy you couldn't get any cheaper anywhere else anyway. You know even including delivery, and as well as that there's not that much competition in the town to lower prices, so for things like furniture it can be really expensive here. Parents group, Mainland


The transport element of the budget produced the most fundamental differences between remote rural Scotland and urban UK MIS; as shown in Chapter 5, this is by far the biggest source of differences in household costs identified in this study.

In urban MIS, working age adults without children and pensioners rely mostly on public transport, with some use of taxis to meet additional transport needs. Parents need one car per household, which is shared in couple households. In remote rural Scotland, in contrast, groups agreed that all household types need at least one vehicle, and for working age households this was one vehicle per adult. They said that adults in couple households might work in different locations and/or have different shift patterns that would make sharing a car for work or using the limited public transport services where available impractical. They identified a travel radius of up to 30 miles on the mainland or 20 miles on islands to ensure sufficient choice of employment opportunities.

Woman: I think there are a number of employers out of the town and in recent years more and more job opportunities ask the question whether you have a driving licence and if you have access to a car even where it's not essential to be a car driver to get employment. But there are also a number of fair size employers who are many miles out of town and you wouldn't be able to access public transport to go to work. Working age group, Island

Woman: I don't live right in the centre so I'm out of the town… it's difficult for getting anywhere without a car to be honest. Me and my partner work different hours and different days and we've just gotten a second car - actually we found it hard with one car. A bus would be no use for us because we couldn't get into the town centre on a bus because it just doesn't stop anywhere near our house. Parents group, Mainland

Groups said that all cars would be second hand, and in two-car households one would be a larger car, for example a Ford Focus, which would be used on longer trips (e.g., shopping in towns/cities further away than usual) and the other would be a smaller model, such as a Ford Fiesta.

Pensioner groups did not feel that it would be feasible for older people to rely on public transport and taxis to meet their needs because services were limited in frequency and range. While some people were able to rely on community transport or lifts from family or friends, participants agreed that one car per household (a small, second hand, five door hatchback) would be needed as not everyone had access to this kind of support. Even with a car, participants said that some money for taxis should be included to cover emergencies or times when vehicles were being serviced or repaired, particularly as it could take several days for spare parts to arrive.

The required travel distance specified by the groups for almost all journeys were longer than those in the UK MIS parents' budgets (e.g., visiting shops, hospital, leisure). For island households there were also additional ferry costs in order to travel to the mainland to go on holiday. The option of flights was discussed, but family groups agreed that as the holiday trip was likely to include some mainland shopping, it would be more practical to be able to load that in the car to come home. However an emergency trip for one adult, every two years, using flights was included as all groups indicated that this would be necessary to cover attendance at funerals or dealing with family emergencies on the UK mainland.

Mileages were calculated both for households living in small towns and those living in communities within a 10 mile radius. Population-weighted averages were applied: population data was used to calculate the relative number of people in remote rural areas who live in small settlements and in towns; the mileage calculated for each of these two cases was multiplied by the relevant population percentage; and these two results were added together.

Social and cultural participation

For the most part groups thought that the provision in the urban UK MIS budgets would provide sufficient resource for people to be able to take part in day-to-day social and leisure activities where they lived. The exception to this was for a preschool child, for whom higher budgets were identified. In mainland locations, parents said that activities could be more expensive than in urban UK. On the islands, there were fewer activities (such as soft play facilities) and the weather was more severe, so more resources for entertaining and stimulating younger children indoors, such as toys, games, books and craft materials were required. Parents in both mainland and Island groups also said that children were likely to start formal swimming lessons younger than in the urban UK MIS, where these are included for primary school children, with participants agreeing that most children would be learning to swim from the age of three. The existing budget of £20 per month for preschool leisure activities was increased to £30 in order to provide the weekly swimming lesson and some resource for other expenditure on other occasional activities during the month. The primary school child's budget of £10 per week throughout the year was unchanged as that was agreed to be enough to cover up to two activities a week, such as the continuation of swimming lessons and another sporting or social activity with peers outside of school.

Another difference related to social participation was that groups said that in both mainland and island-based remote communities there were a lot of local fundraising activities, which were well supported and an important part of participating in society. They increased the allocation for charitable giving to reflect this saying that it could be used for attending fundraising events, buying raffle tickets and ingredients for/cakes from bake sales for organisations such as Search and Rescue and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Man: If you go to an event or whatever is that you can go to a bingo night and it could be a charitable bingo night so you pay to get in and raffle tickets come out as well. So whatever you do up here the raffle tickets come out. Pensioners group, Island

Man: Yes the communities are smaller and you're more likely to know somebody involved in it; like the lifeboat one is a very big one up here and they go around a lot of the pubs that the fishermen go into and everybody has got family related to it. Working age group, Island

Holidays create more significant additional costs. Groups agreed that the specification of an annual UK-based holiday included for each household in urban MIS would also meet the needs of people in remote mainland towns (a seaside caravan holiday for households with children, a coach tour for pensioners and a city break for working age adults without children). Travelling to access these holidays meant that the transport budget needed to be increased. They also increased the duration of the trips slightly to incorporate time for visiting friends and relatives and to shop for items and in retailers not available closer to home. In some cases this extension was necessary in order to allow for ferry bookings that involved overnight travel and were prone to cancellation, or breaking long journeys to a holiday destination in another part of the UK.

Woman: You would have to add on a couple of days because if you're picking up a coach package, if there happens to be one in Aberdeen that would be fine but you would probably still need to go down the day before so you'd have a nights accommodation. Pensioners group, Island

In addition, island groups said that pensioners would require a total of two weeks away, rather than one week as specified in urban UK MIS and mainland towns. This is related to the distance and time involved in getting off-island and the need to make the most of the effort and expense required to travel to a non-island location. The cost of coach tour packages as well as spending money specified were higher per day than in the urban UK MIS research, compounding the effect of this longer period spent on holidays. The spending money increases were related to the need to make the most of opportunities to access cultural and entertainment options that were not available as part of regular island life.

Woman: When you do go on a holiday… you do want to give your bairns all these experiences that they don't get up here. And some of those experiences can be as bog standard as going to a café or a restaurant or something that they've seen on the television or going on a train or a bus which sounds a bit ridiculous but that's what it's like. Parents group, Island



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