I was one of a small group of people asked by Scottish Government to join an independent Task Force, in the summer of 2015, to investigate and propose solutions that would address the huge problem of rural fuel poverty. Rural Scotland Key Facts, published in March 2015, showed that half the people living in rural Scotland are living in fuel poverty. For those in the more remote areas this can rise to 63%, nearly double the rate of the rest of Scotland. Changeworks has a core aim of reducing fuel poverty and my role as Centre Manager for the Highlands and Islands Home Energy Scotland service has given me a unique insight into the real blight caused by this issue. The Task Force worked on this for a year alongside our “day jobs” and took advice from a wide range of experts to ensure we captured all the contributing factors.
The issues identified included:
- Restrictive and costly electricity and gas tariffs
- Lack of access to mains gas which is the cheapest form of heating
- Low incomes
- Homes that are hard to treat
- Impacts of weather which means more energy is required to heat the home
- Lack of certified contractors who can install energy efficiency measures and Government schemes that have historically not delivered or prioritised well in rural areas.
As a result there was a huge amount of information, some of it quite technical, to absorb and assimilate.
But it is solutions that are required. The recently published report, An action plan to deliver affordable warmth in rural Scotland, developed by the Task Force includes a plan that contains 51 actions which, if delivered, will address the iniquity of rural fuel poverty. The action plan is based on three guiding principles:
- Fairness and social justice should be every householders right, wherever in urban or rural Scotland they happen to live
- All vulnerable households should receive the most effective practical help and support they need to keep their homes warm at cost they can afford, and
- The progress made by Scottish Government in its strategic approaches to eliminating fuel poverty from peoples’ lives should be set within a statutory framework for delivery which is rigorously measured and held to annual account by the Scottish Parliament.
The Government has yet to respond in detail to the report but has already committed to reviewing the existing definition of fuel poverty, developing a new fuel poverty strategy and taking forward a Warm Homes Bill in late 2017.
But the actions don’t all fall to Scottish Government. The UK Government, energy companies, Ofgem and local authorities all have an important part to play. With collective action by all, the scourge of rural fuel poverty can become a distant memory. All of us who care about people suffering in cold damp, homes need to encourage this joined approach to become a reality.
Bob Grant is Centre Manager for Home Energy Scotland Highlands and Islands.
Funded by the Scottish Government, Changeworks delivers Home Energy Scotland advice centres in South East Scotland and Highlands and Islands on behalf of Energy Saving Trust.