As the first of this winter’s severe winter gales swept over most of the country yesterday, new figures were released showing that nearly one million Scots households now live in fuel poverty.
The latest Scottish Government national statistics publication showed that there was a 4% increase – around 100,000 households – living in fuel poverty in 2013 than in the previous year.
This means that a total of 940,000 Scots homes – 39.1% of all households – are enduring fuel poverty.
More than 25,000 of these households (10.5%) were in extreme fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is officially defined as needing to pay more than 10% of household income on fuel bills.
The report, published by Scotland’s Chief Statistician said: “This increase was driven by a 7% increase in fuel prices between 2012 and 2013.
“Since 2010 energy efficiency improvements have led to an 8% drop in the energy needs of the average household, while the cost of that energy has risen by 20%”.
Clearly shocked by the figures in the Scottish House Condition Survey, Scotland’s Housing Minister Margaret Burgess (pictured) promptly called for more Westminster support for schemes to combat fuel-poverty in Scotland – including an increase in the £140 Warm Homes Discount that helps low income households.
She said: “Fuel prices rose by an inflation-busting 7% per cent in 2013, pushing more people into fuel poverty. The fact that this is happening in an energy-rich country is scandalous.
“We have invested over £300 million since 2009 to make fuel poor homes more energy efficient. This year and next, we are spending £94 million to improve energy efficiency. Around one in three Scottish households, over 700,000, have now benefited from measures like new boilers or insulation.
“These statistics make clear that without action to improve energy efficiency, which is our responsibility, price increases would have put even more households into fuel poverty in 2013.
“The Scottish Government is doing what it can – but we don’t control prices and don’t have any powers over ECO or the Warm Homes Discount.
“Fuel costs have risen six times faster than incomes since 2003, while the UK Government’s fiscal policies since June 2010 will leave the poorest 20 per cent of households worse off by the equivalent of £441 per year in 2015-16.
“We will mitigate against this where possible but we know there are further cuts to come.
“The figure for 2013 is the highest level of fuel poverty ever recorded in Scotland. These shocking figures mean that far too many people in Scotland are living in fuel poverty and can’t afford to be warm at home.
“With just two years to go until the Scottish Government has to meet the duty set out in the Housing Act to end fuel poverty, it is a great disappointment that the number of people living in cold homes is still going up.
“It has been proven that making homes more energy efficient so that they don’t leak heat does have a positive impact in lowering fuel bills and in turn taking people out of fuel poverty. The Scottish Government can and should therefore do more to help householders across the country to make improvements to their homes, such as insulation and cladding.
“The Scottish Government must now reassess the cost of eradicating fuel poverty in Scotland and set its budgets realistically to achieve it. We hope that it will use the opportunity of its 2014 Fuel Poverty Statement, which is due out by 31 December to detail how it will meet the target.
“The extent of welfare benefit cuts that have been made by the UK Government must surely also have caused more people to fall into fuel poverty.
“Many fuel poor households have already been rationing their use of energy at home and are making hard choices between turning the heating on and buying food.
“Energy companies must make every effort to keep prices as low as possible. For too long the energy consumer has been left in the dark and has struggled to manage fuel bills easily and so there is a need for energy companies to go on improving their customer services and support. The regulator Ofgem must make sure this is done.”
Meanwhile, Patrick Harvie, Scottish Green MSP for Glasgow, and a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee, called for major investment in energy efficient housing as the statistics confirmed that the Government will fail its target of ending fuel poverty by 2016.
He said: “Energy efficient homes should be a national infrastructure priority and I will continue to press for this to feature in the forthcoming Scottish budget. It would help create thousands of high quality jobs while also tackling fuel poverty.
David Stewart, Policy Manager, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) added:
“These figures show that fuel poverty is at crisis levels in Scotland.
“Too many households cannot afford to heat their homes, and they face a choice between heating their homes or eating this winter.
“While housing associations and co-operatives lead on energy efficiency in Scotland, with the most energy efficient homes in the country, rising fuel prices mean that more needs to be done to insulate tenants against the scourge of fuel poverty.”