I want to approach today’s debate from the perspective of older people and those who are particularly vulnerable as a result of fuel poverty. I want to be a voice for the people in Scotland who are disproportionately affected by fuel poverty, as others are across the United Kingdom. I commend my hon. Friend Ian Blackford for talking about the difficulties faced by those in his constituency and throughout the highlands.
In Scotland, 58% of single pensioner households are in fuel poverty, as are 44% of pensioner couples. The UK as a whole has one of the highest rates of fuel poverty and one of the most inefficient housing stocks in Europe. Fuel poverty rates are higher in Scotland. It is an indisputable fact that more often than not it is colder in Braemar than in Bournemouth, and that means that houses must be heated from a lower ambient temperature and for longer periods throughout the year.
Today in London the sun is shining, and although it is cold, older and vulnerable people could probably venture outside. This morning I received two picture messages showing snow lying on the ground outside my Wishaw home. Not many older or vulnerable people will be venturing outside there until it thaws. They will need to heat their homes in the meantime, and the cost of heating those homes is a burden that many of them simply cannot afford. That is shameful. When people are old, infirm or immobile, the cost of heating can be excessive, especially for those on low fixed incomes.
Many in fuel poverty will be using prepayment meters to pay for the cost of heating their homes. Consumers who are in arrears with gas or electricity bills can be switched to prepayment meters. According to Ofgem, more than 90% of those consumers are currently not repaying a debt, and are therefore unable to switch to different tariffs that could cut their fuel costs. Switching is absolutely impossible for them.
There are two main ways of tackling fuel poverty. One is to make homes more energy-efficient, and, as housing is a devolved competence, the Scottish Government have poured significant resources into making homes more affordable to heat.