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26 December 2014, 06:23 | Updated: 26 December 2014, 06:24
Nurses are calling on the Scottish Government to invest more cash in energy efficiency to help prevent health problems linked with people living in damp, cold homes.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland has joined forces with environmental campaigners at WWF Scotland and a coalition of housing, energy and consumer advice organisations to urge ministers to make improving energy efficiency a top priority.
It comes after Scottish Government figures for 2013 revealed 940,000 households across the country were classed as being in fuel poverty - a rise of about 100,000 from the previous year.
RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: "Nurses are on the frontline of patient care and know only too well the real health problems linked to fuel poverty.
"Children and the elderly are particularly at risk and every year we see up to 2,000 excess winter deaths in Scotland alone.
"We need to see greater investment in making our housing stock more energy efficient, therefore reducing illnesses related to damp, cold homes.''
Improving energy efficiency is critical if Scotland is to meet tough targets on cutting emissions and eradicating fuel poverty, campaigners added.
The Scottish Government is committed to ending fuel poverty - when a household has to spend more than 10% of its income on heating - by November 2016 while Holyrood has passed legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020.
WWF Scotland head of policy Dr Sam Gardner said: "We know helping households become more energy efficient is a win-win, cutting carbon emissions and delivering cheaper fuel bills, alongside the clear benefits that come from ending fuel poverty in Scotland.
"The funding decisions taken in 2015 are crucial if we're to deliver these benefits.
"That's why we're calling for investment levels in the forthcoming budget to ensure the social, environmental and economic benefits of energy-efficient homes.''
Alan Ferguson, chair of The Existing Homes Alliance, which brings together housing, energy-saving and consumer advice organisations, said: "We're seeing families across Scotland, not just those out of work but also working people, who have to choose between heating and eating.
"As numbers using food banks continue to rise, we're also hearing from those who can't even cook what they receive from the food bank because they can't afford the electricity. While these examples seem extreme, they are sadly increasingly common.''
He said that while schemes such as the Home Energy Efficiency Programme, which pays for the installation of new boilers and insulation for some households, were "making progress'', a "more concerted effort'' is needed.
Mr Ferguson said that a co-ordinated approach across government departments with more funding "must be made if we're serious about ending fuel poverty and bringing bills and emissions down''.
Labour environment spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said: "The Scottish Government has failed to meet its climate targets for three years in a row and we have a fuel poverty crisis where many people in Scotland have to choose between heating and eating.
"If we are to meet our climate promises and tackle the scourge of fuel poverty, we need concerted action.''
She added: "Labour's commitment to freeze energy bills would bring much-needed relief to people struggling to meet rising bills, but above all we need the Scottish Government to use its full range of powers to make our housing fit for purpose.''
Housing minister Margaret Burgess said: "We are improving domestic energy efficiency. Since 2009 we have invested over £300 million to make fuel-poor homes more energy efficient and we are spending a further £94 million this year.
"Around one in three Scottish households, over 700,000, have now benefited from measures like new boilers or insulation.
"Since 2003, fuel bills have now risen six times faster than household incomes and without our efforts even more people would have been in fuel poverty.
"Household incomes are also suffering, as the UK Government's fiscal policies since June 2010 will leave the poorest fifth of households worse off by the equivalent of £441 per year in 2015-16.
"The Scottish Government cannot control prices and we have called on the UK Government to increase the £140 a year Warm Homes Discount to give immediate relief to the lowest income households.''