In 2002 Scotland announced a plan to eliminate fuel poverty, one of few countries in the world to do so. The government was supposed to have got there by the end of this month, but it hasn’t – not by a long way. The story behind what has happened helps to show why a new approach to this measure of living standards is needed, not only in Scotland but worldwide. Scotland defines fuel poverty as households that must spend 10% or more of their total income to have regular and adequate heating. When this year’s figures are finalised, they will confirm that well over 30% of households are still in this category. Levels also vary widely across regions and households – 70% of households in the Western Isles, for example. To be fair to Scotland, many countries still don’t even recognise this living standard, or define it more narrowly. England used to recognise it, but switched to a blunter definition two years ago. This was essentially a Westminster ploy to slash the figures and attracted widespread criticism. You can see from the graphic below that the situation has grown steadily worse since the 2002 announcement. Scotland in back in the same position as in 1996, the one previous year for which there are figures. The improvement at the turn of the century was due to things like increasing incomes and employment and energy efficiency programmes. Fuel poverty got worse again because of the recession and rising energy prices, and because of the poor condition of Scottish housing stock: 53% with disrepair to critical elements. Early schemes also targeted low-hanging fruit such as insulating buildings already in reasonable repair – and still largely do.
The Conversation 31st Oct 2016 read more »