Warnings over rise in fuel poverty in Scotland

Recent energy price rises could result in an additional 169,000 Scottish households facing fuel poverty, reports Ed Jacobs.

Just weeks after it was announced that Scottish Power would be increasing the price of its bills by up to 10 per cent, new figures have outlined the startling impact it would have on levels of fuel poverty in Scotland if the same price increase was replicated by other suppliers.

Fuel-poverty-in-ScotlandResponding to a Parliamentary question tabled by Scottish Labour, the SNP government’s Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil has revealed that recent energy price rises could result in an additional 169,000 Scottish households facing fuel poverty.

Such an increase would come on top of the 770,000 households north of the border it was claimed in November were already living in fuel poverty – a third of all Scottish households.

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, who has argued that other energy companies are likely to go the same way as Scottish Power in respect of energy bill increases, has responded:

“It is an absolute disgrace that in a civilised society, we commit people to misery, ill health and even death as a result of not being able to afford to keep themselves warm.”

Scottish Labour, however, have used the figures to urge Alex Salmond’s administration to reinstate the just over £20 million cut to measures designed to tackle fuel poverty contained within the 2010-11 budget.

Reacting to the figures, Labour’s outgoing leader at Holyrood, Iain Gray, explained:

These shocking figures expose the harsh reality of big power companies ramping up fuel bills. Price hikes like this affect every Scot, but they will have a disproportionate impact on those who are on the lowest incomes.

“It is our duty to help the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, who will be hit hardest by these price increases through these tough times.

“With more than one in three Scots now struggling to heat their homes it underlines just how wrong the SNP’s decision to slash the fuel poverty budget by almost a third was. I urge the SNP government to wake up to the reality facing hard-pressed Scots and urgently reverse the cut to the fuel poverty budget.”

The Scottish government, meanwhile, said that though the figures are shocking, much progress has been made under the SNP’s leadership, a government spokesman arguing:

“There has been good progress on improving the energy efficiency of Scotland’s homes but, time and again, the Scottish Government’s efforts to lift people out of fuel poverty are being undermined by high fuel prices.

“It is scandalous that so many people are suffering from fuel poverty in energy-rich Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament needs full powers so that we can do more. Ministers met with Ofgem and support the work of Ofgem to further protect consumers, deliver transparency on energy prices and ensure companies treat their customers fairly.

“The Scottish Government’s universal home insulation scheme’s budget has actually been increased by 25%, from £10million to £12.5million, and is helping people right across Scotland.”

In March, however, Graham Blount, chairman of the Scottish Fuel Poverty Forum, announced his resignation in protest at having been kept in the dark over government policy changes and decisions on fuel poverty issues.

In his letter to Mr Neil, then a junior housing minister, shortly after changes were announced to thegGovernment’s Home Insulation Scheme and the consequent budgetary implications for the associated Energy Assistance Package, Blount argued:

“The simple fact that this was being discussed within government circles at the time of our meeting last week but the decision was taken not to invite advice from the forum has for me been the last straw in the Scottish government’s repeated ignoring of the forum’s role in advising ministers.

“While we are, as was said last week, not called an advisory group, our terms of reference and remit are quite clear on that role and we have been prevented from exercising it over the past few months.”

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