‘Unacceptable’ new fuel poverty figures spark Budget warm homes call

Cold-homeThe Scottish Government’s draft budget must show significant investment in energy efficiency as a National Infrastructure Priority to end the scourge of cold, leaky homes, according to a number of organisations.

The call by CPAG Scotland, RCN Scotland, SCDI and the Existing Homes Alliance follows the publication of official statistics showing that 34.9 per cent of households in Scotland were in fuel poverty in 2014, only a slight improvement on the 35.8 per cent in 2013.

The new figures also show Scotland’s fuel poor are disproportionately living in cold, leaky homes. 73 per cent of households with the worst performing Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings of F and G are fuel poor.

The statistics come less than a year before the statutory deadline for eradicating fuel poverty set by the Housing (Scotland) Act.

In October, the groups joined with an alliance of over 50 civic organisations and businesses calling on the Scottish Government to end cold homes in Scotland by 2025, by improving the energy efficiency of homes so that all homes reach at least a ‘C’ EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) standard.

Commenting on the new statistics, John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said: “It is clearly unacceptable that today, in a modern Scotland, so many children are growing up in fuel poverty. Against a backdrop of family incomes put under increasing pressure by the political choices of the UK government, the additional burden of a difficult to heat home is an unnecessary one. With a target of eradicating fuel poverty less than a year away, the Scottish Government should use their Budget to invest in a long-term plan for ridding Scotland of cold homes.”

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland’s director, Theresa Fyffe, said: “After the worst ‘excess winter deaths’ figures for 15 years, it’s clear that we need to see greater preventative spending to protect the elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups living in unhealthy, hard to heat homes. Investing now in improving the energy efficiency of our poor-quality housing would help to reduce the burden on our NHS and our frontline nursing staff for decades to come.”

Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) chief executive, Ross Martin, said: “If the imperative of tackling fuel poverty weren’t enough, the business case for investing to improve our leaky homes is watertight. A comprehensive, long-term investment strategy from the Scottish Government to support all homes to reach at least a C energy performance rating in ten years would create up to 9,000 jobs a year spread across Scotland, create exciting opportunities for new Scottish businesses to flourish, and deliver economic growth.”

Existing Homes Alliance chair, Alan Ferguson, said: “The latest figures show that the fuel poor are disproportionately living in some of Scotland worst performing houses, wasting valuable resources heating the air outside their homes. That’s why tomorrow’s draft budget needs to follow through on the Scottish Government’s recent pledge to make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority with a strong commitment and a clear long-term vision for all homes to reach a C energy rating in a decade. No other investment can do so much to cut energy bills for the fuel poor, create new jobs, reduce climate emissions and improve physical and mental health.”

In June 2015 the Scottish Government committed to making the improvement of energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority. However, the Scottish Government is yet to publish further detail about what this will mean in practice.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 set a statutory duty on the Scottish Government to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland, as far as is reasonably practicable, by November 2016.

Other members of the Existing Homes Alliance echoed the call for the Scottish Government to start on delivering its pledge to make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority for Scotland.

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said it now seems unlikely that the target of ending fuel poverty by 2016 will be achieved.

SFHA chief executive, Mary Taylor, said: “Research shows that investing in energy efficient homes is one of the most cost effective ways to boost the economy as it delivers a high number of jobs and training places as well as cutting fuel poverty and reducing the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

“If we are serious about ending fuel poverty and tackling climate change, then long-term targets need to be set to bring all homes to a good energy efficiency standard, and we need to be provided with the funds to make this happen.”

Ms Taylor added: “Housing associations face a particular challenge as, while research published by the SFHA earlier this year shows that housing associations and co-operatives have the most energy efficient homes in Scotland, their tenants have lower than average incomes. This means that while their homes cost less to heat, they are just as likely to be in fuel poverty, and so it is vital that associations are supported to continue to invest in the energy efficiency of their existing homes.”

The SFHA research also highlighted that the greatest challenges concerned investing in homes requiring solid wall insulation, or where properties are off the main gas network and, therefore, more expensive to heat.

Ms Taylor concluded: “These figures show that fuel poverty remains a major challenge. That is why we are calling for long-term targets to bring all of Scotland’s homes up to a good energy efficiency standard and for long-term funding to support this.”

Commenting on the figures, Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland policy and practice officer, Ashley Campbell, said: “It is disappointing to see that despite significant investment in improving the energy efficiency standards of social housing across Scotland, there has been little change in levels of fuel poverty. A warm, safe home should not be seen as a privilege but the normal standard of healthy living across Scotland. It is simply not acceptable that more than a third of households were fuel poor and almost one in ten were living in extreme fuel poverty in 2014. Sadly, we are far from meeting the Scottish Government’s target of eradicating fuel poverty by 2016.

“These survey results make it clear that we must do more to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty by investing in housing across tenures, supporting private landlords and home owners to invest in their properties and making sure people have the information and advice they need to make positive choices about their energy use.”

Ashley Campbell concluded: “We welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement earlier this year that energy efficiency work will be classed as a National Infrastructure Priority but this must be underpinned by a comprehensive strategy for improvement and enough funding to really make a difference. Ministers have a chance to make a start on that strategy in tomorrow’s draft budget.”

The drop in fuel poverty levels in Scotland was given a cautious welcome by Energy Action Scotland.

According to the national charity, wholesale energy prices have fallen in recent times and support schemes such as the Warm Home Discount for those on lower incomes have also been in place. At the same time, programmes have been improving the energy efficiency of homes. The combination of factors which address the three main causes of fuel poverty show that a concerted effort can make a difference.

However, Norman Kerr, director of Energy Action Scotland, said the fact remains that the number of Scottish households struggling to afford to heat their home to an adequate level is still far too high.

He said: “It is clear that taking action to tackle all three main causes of fuel poverty can have a positive impact and that means making homes more energy efficient, reducing energy costs and improving income levels.

“There is still a significant fuel poverty problem in Scotland that needs more funding to solve it than is currently available.

“This week’s Scottish Government Budget is an opportunity to do more about reducing levels of fuel poverty in Scotland. Without it, the desperate situation of hundreds of thousands of households living in cold, damp homes will continue.”

Energy Action Scotland has already urged the Scottish Government to open discussions now on resetting the target to end fuel poverty, as it is clear the current target of November 2016 can no longer be met. The charity wants the Scottish Government to produce a fuel poverty strategy and action plan with costs and timelines.

Adam Lang, head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, said: “The scourge of fuel poverty is a major barrier to people having a safe, secure and affordable home and too many households in Scotland all too often have to make the choice between eating or heating.

“It is disappointing that the report shows that the Scottish Government looks set to miss its targets on both energy efficiency and housing quality. With fuel poverty rates in Scotland remaining broadly static since last year, it is clear that much more needs to be done to ensure everyone has a suitable and warm place to call home.

“Making homes more energy efficient would help put an end to housing poverty where the lack of a warm affordable home compounds health inequalities and damages the life chances of those affected, especially children.”

The Church of Scotland, which will be bringing a major report on fuel poverty to next year’s General Assembly, described the figures as disappointing and showing the need to tackle fuel poverty as a priority. The warning comes at the same time as the Scottish Government is coming under renewed pressure to cut Scotland’s carbon footprint to meet the new climate change commitments agreed at the Paris climate summit.

Sally Foster Fulton, convener of the Church and Society Council, said: “These two issues are related and we need to tackle them together. Fuel poverty comes about because people have to live in houses that are poorly insulated and not fit for the 21st century. Houses that leak heat lose vital income for their occupants and waste energy at the same time leading to a large part of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is bad news for a third of Scotland’s population and it is bad news for the planet.

“I joined other church leaders in Paris and heard the stories from around the world that tell us we must tackle climate change. I see people living in fuel poverty here in Scotland and know that we must redouble our efforts to tackle fuel poverty and climate change together.

“The Scottish Government needs to make tackling fuel poverty and climate change together two of their top priorities for 2016.”

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