A Scotland without fuel poverty is a fairer Scotland: report

Report by the Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group proposing a fresh approach to delivering affordable warmth and energy use in Scotland.

2. Vision and framing for a future fuel poverty strategy

2.1 Social justice

Our vision for the eradication of fuel poverty is based on the principle of social justice - fairness, prosperity and participation for all. Fuel poverty, while not exactly a subset of income poverty, is strongly associated with low incomes and will ultimately only be eradicated if Scotland is able to make sustained progress at reducing poverty and inequality in our society.

The presence of fuel poverty in Scotland is unacceptable. It is unfair that some people have to pay a 'poverty premium' for fuel simply because of where they live, or the standard of housing available to them or because they are unable to achieve secure or sufficient income. Affordable energy use is a basic need that must be met in order for individuals and families to thrive and enjoy wellbeing.

The new fuel poverty strategy's vision should be: a Scotland where everyone lives in a warm home, has sufficient income for healthy living, has access to affordable, low carbon energy, and has the skills to make appropriate use of energy. This is achievable through a sufficient supply of good quality affordable housing across all tenures, a distribution of good quality jobs across the country, an effective social security system, substantially more affordable sources of low carbon energy, and sufficient advice and support to help people use energy sensibly and efficiently.

Recommendation - Vision 1: The Scottish Government should place the new fuel poverty strategy firmly within the government's plans to tackle poverty and inequalities.

We believe a very different approach to fuel poverty is necessary. This will require strong leadership and a joined up approach across several portfolios within central and local government as illustrated in figure 2 below. The new strategies emerging from government on energy, a Fairer Scotland, the National Infrastructure Priority on energy efficiency, as well as existing commitments to Community Planning Partnerships and the economic strategy all have a key role to play. It will also be important to link the fuel poverty strategy with the government's child poverty strategy and proposed legal obligations [14] in relation to eradicating child poverty.

Figure 2: Cross-portfolio approach to Fuel Poverty Strategy

Figure 2: Cross-portfolio approach to Fuel Poverty Strategy 

With the right design, a new fuel poverty strategy will help achieve a multitude of government objectives - improve health and wellbeing outcomes, grow local economies, and reduce climate emissions.

Health: Fuel poverty costs the NHS up to £80m per annum in Scotland due to the health impacts of cold, damp housing. [15] People who live in the coldest homes are three times more likely to die from cold-related illnesses [16] . Living in cold housing is associated with a range of ill effects from poor infant weight gain, to more frequent and severe asthmatic symptoms, and increased depression and anxiety [17] , [18] . Small children, people with disability and frail older people are those most at risk. Increased winter mortality is associated with low indoor temperatures. Excess winter mortality figures for 2014/15 in Scotland are 4,060 deaths, which is the highest level for 15 years.

Beyond physical health effects, recent longitudinal evidence from Scotland is also beginning to show how fuel poverty is a major contributor to household financial difficulties that impact on mental health and wellbeing [19] .

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence ( NICE) guideline on Excess winter deaths and illness and the health risks associated with cold homes states: "As a minimum, properties should be raised to a band C (69-80) and ideally, to a band B (81-91) rating." [20] NHS Scotland is developing a Housing and Health Inequalities Briefing which will recognise the health impacts of cold and damp housing. The Scottish Public Health Network ( ScotPHN) will provide Fuel Poverty Guidance for Directors of Public Health.

Economic development: Research [21] has estimated that an energy efficiency programme that aims to raise the vast majority of homes to an EPC band C standard would result in a net increase in jobs of 8-9000 per year - jobs spread around every part of Scotland. The same research concludes that such an energy efficiency programme would be a 'value for money' project - with a benefit to cost ratio of 2:1.

Climate change: Improving the energy efficiency of Scotland's housing stock remains one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce carbon emissions. Looking ahead to 2050, the Scottish Government needs to plan for a net-zero carbon housing sector in order to be consistent with an 80% reduction in emissions. Over time, this means a much greater reliance on highly insulated buildings, renewable heat, and photo-voltaics. It is essential that this transition is managed in such a way that the needs of the fuel poor are addressed in the short term and that it contributes to healthy futures in the longer term.

2.2 Participation

We have been impressed with the work of the Poverty Truth Commission which believes "poverty will only be truly addressed when those who experience it first-hand are at the heart of the process". To put this plainly, the commission's motto, taken from the South African post-apartheid process is: "Nothing about us - without us - is for us". [22]

We believe it is important to understand fuel poverty from the perspective of those experiencing fuel poverty. In this way, it is possible to test assumptions regarding the definition of fuel poverty, and the solutions to eradicate it to ensure they are relevant to people's actual circumstances.

Another useful reference is the NHS Ayrshire and Arran and Energy Agency project to evaluate the impacts of solid wall insulation upgrades in relation to improvements in energy efficiency, the health of the residents and any other significant benefits through 1:1 interviews with the householders.

Recommendation - Vision 2: The Scottish Government should involve people who are experiencing fuel poverty in the development of the new fuel poverty strategy, as well as in its delivery and evaluation. The experience of the Poverty Truth Commission would be useful in this respect.


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