Calls to be bold with Scotland's fuel poverty targets

6 June 2019, 06:00

gas hob

The Scottish Parliament should be bold with plans to end the "scourge" of fuel poverty, according to MSPs and campaigners.

Parliament will consider amendments to a Bill aiming to tackle fuel poverty on Thursday afternoon, before a final vote on the proposed new laws on Tuesday.

The Bill proposes a target to cut the number of households affected by fuel poverty to 15% by 2030 and 5% by 2040.

However, Scottish Labour will put forward an amendment urging the Scottish Government to bring the latter target forward by eight years, while the Scottish Greens are calling for immediate action to avoid missing the targets.

Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour's local government spokesman, said: "It is a scandal than in an energy-rich country like Scotland people are forced to choose between heating their homes or eating.

"Fuel poverty is a scourge on our society, and one the SNP government should be focused on ending as soon as possible.

"The government are not coming close to doing everything they can to improve energy efficiency and reduce fuel poverty across Scotland, and funding consistently falls short of what is required for a National Infrastructure Project.

"That's why Scottish Labour will be putting forward proposals to end fuel poverty eight years earlier than planned."

Amendments to the Fuel Poverty Bill have also been proposed by the Scottish Greens, whose housing spokesman Andy Wightman argued would provide extra resources and enhance scrutiny of whether the targets are being met.

Mr Wightman said work on the Bill "has been refreshingly co-operative", but added: "Fuel poverty targets set out in previous legislation have been missed by some margin, therefore work must begin immediately to avoid a repeat of those failures.

"Reducing fuel poverty improves lives and helps to tackle the climate emergency. This Bill is a step in the right direction, but is only the beginning of the challenge of eradicating fuel poverty."

Ahead of the Stage Three debate on the Bill, a survey for the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations found a rising number of tenants are either in fuel poverty or at increased risk of it.

Fuel poverty is defined as a household spending 10% of its net income on fuel costs after housing, care and childcare costs, with respondents suggesting the rise is linked to welfare reform, the increasing cost of living and energy price hikes.

Meanwhile, one in 10 Scots workers has had to miss paying gas or electricity bills at least once in the last year because they have run out of money, according to a YouGov survey for Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).

Speaking before the debate, Dr Jamie Stewart, from CAS, said: "This bill is a unique opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to be bold in its approach to tackling an issue that is affecting a significant number of people in Scotland.

"The problems of fuel poverty are all too familiar to the Citizens Advice network in Scotland. We help hundreds of thousands of people each year and many thousands of our clients are concerned about energy costs.

"That one in 10 working people haven't been able to afford an energy bill at some point in the past year should spur MSPs into urgent action.

"Tackling fuel poverty is a vital part of creating a fairer society. The Fuel Poverty Strategy will be tasked with delivering on the commitments enshrined in this Bill, so it is important that the legislation provides appropriate levels of scrutiny and sets bold targets.

"We hope MSPs today seize this opportunity to take decisive action to help some of society's most vulnerable people."