Too many households in Scotland cannot afford to keep their homes warm and dry. According to recent statistics, 845,000 households (35%) are living in fuel poverty, with levels far higher in rural areas at 50%. These households suffer from, or are put at risk of, poor health and wellbeing outcomes and lower educational attainment.
They are also forced to juggle energy bills alongside other essential needs such as food, school uniforms and transport. The high levels of fuel poverty exist despite commendable investment by the Scottish Government in energy efficiency programmes to alleviate fuel poverty.
This report explores why current programmes have failed to eradicate fuel poverty, and proposes a fresh approach aimed at delivering the outcome of affordable warmth and energy use for everyone in Scotland. This approach is based on four high-level recommendations which are described below:
Recommendation: The fuel poverty strategy should be firmly based on the principle of social justice and embedded in efforts to create a fairer and more equal society.
It is unfair that some people have to pay a 'poverty premium' for fuel simply because of where they live, or due to the standard of housing available to them, or because they are unable to achieve secure or sufficient income. Affordable warmth and energy use is a basic need that must be met in order for individuals and families to thrive and enjoy wellbeing.
A Scotland without fuel poverty is a Scotland where everyone lives in a warm, cosy home, has sufficient income for healthy living, and access to affordable, low carbon energy. This is achievable through a sufficient supply of good quality affordable housing (all tenures), a distribution of good quality jobs across the country, an effective social security system and substantially more sources of affordable, low carbon energy.
Recommendation: Address all four drivers of fuel poverty
Fuel poverty stems from the interaction of four drivers: income, energy costs, energy performance, and how energy is used in the home. The new fuel poverty strategy must address all four drivers. Programmes to improve the energy performance of homes are important and have had success in mitigating fuel poverty. However, these gains have been outstripped by fuel price rises and insufficient increases in income - indeed many vulnerable consumers and wage earners have seen decreases in their incomes in real terms.
Fuel poverty levels in Scotland have remained at about 35% of the population since 2009, and have more than doubled since 2003, just after the fuel poverty target was set. The Scottish Government has newly devolved powers which extend its ability to influence all four drivers of fuel poverty. This report proposes interventions to raise incomes, reduce energy costs, and help households manage their energy use. In addition, the report recommends that efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes should be enhanced, with the aim of eradicating energy efficiency as a cause of fuel poverty.
Recommendation: Establish collaborative approaches with strong leadership at national and local levels.
Responsibility for fuel poverty policy largely sits within the Better Homes Division in the Scottish Government and is not embedded as a key component of a wider cross-departmental approach to tackling poverty, social inclusion, health and wellbeing, and sustainable economic growth. The continuing high levels of fuel poverty indicate that we are not doing enough to make the most of other national and local programmes to identify, reach and help the fuel poor.
The new fuel poverty strategy requires coherent leadership and a joined up approach across several portfolios within government. This should take the form of a cross-departmental ministerial group, making fuel poverty eradication a clear component of the health, communities, inequalities, social security, housing and energy portfolios, with one cabinet secretary accountable to deliver the strategy. The new strategies emerging from government on a Fairer Scotland, the National Infrastructure Priority on energy efficiency, and the new energy strategy are all relevant in this context.
This national leadership and collaboration needs to be matched at the local level. A local partnership approach focused on creating good health and wellbeing for everyone would help tackle the full range of challenges affecting wellbeing, including fuel poverty. This can be achieved through the better linking of Community Planning Partnerships, Single Outcome Agreements, Health and Social Care Partnerships and local government housing strategies. These provide good mechanisms to plan the coordination of local assessment of need, delivery of interventions, and follow-up.
This person-centred approach is consistent with the Scottish Government's vision for public service delivery which includes collaboration across organisational boundaries and a focus on prevention and early intervention.
Recommendation: Review the current definition of fuel poverty and establish a policy objective and monitoring programme that addresses all four causes of fuel poverty.
A fuel poverty definition is important for setting policy objectives, targeting of resources and measurement of progress. There are concerns that the current definition of fuel poverty can impede targeting and the measurement of impact. We also know that monitoring of current programmes does not tell us how or to what extent interventions affect levels of fuel poverty.
We believe the definition and measures of progress should focus on the desired outcome - affordable warmth and energy use. It should acknowledge fuel poverty as a manifestation of poverty and inequalities in society; and be easy to understand and measure. A monitoring and evaluation framework should be established at the outset of the strategy, alongside appropriate mechanisms for scrutiny and review of the strategy.
The full report provides detailed recommendations on how these broad themes can be taken forward in a new, comprehensive strategy to eradicate fuel poverty. It includes both short term measures, that can give some immediate relief to individuals and families from high energy bills or draughty homes, and longer term strategies that seek to create local employment opportunities and more affordable sources of energy.
It is a bold and ambitious approach that will challenge existing ways of working, but will be much more effective at helping households to enjoy the benefits of a warm, dry home, and to rid our society of a key source of deprivation.