Fuel Poverty

Part of Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip 2:55 pm, 21st March 2017

The hon. Gentleman is cheering me on from the Benches behind me.

By 2021, the Scottish Government will have spent more than £1 billion to ensure that Scottish homes and other buildings are warmer. Since 2008, more than 1 million energy efficiency measures have been installed in nearly 1 million households across Scotland, and the proportion of homes with the three highest energy ratings has increased by 71 per cent since 2010.

Scottish local authorities have also had an additional £10 million this winter to ensure that homes are energy efficient. The Scottish Government do not do that because it is a nice thing to do; they do it because it is absolutely necessary and imperative, to protect the most vulnerable people living in Scotland. Also, rather than simply throwing money at the problem, the Scottish Government have taken a consultative approach, working with many independent stakeholders and acting on their recommendations. My hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber mentioned the independent Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group, and it has commended the Scottish Government; I will come back to that later.

Progress has been made. In 2015 almost 100,000 fewer households were in fuel poverty than in 2014. Energy to heat our home is a basic human right that no one should go without. That is especially true for older and vulnerable people in our society. Action has been, and will continue to be, taken in Scotland during the course of this Parliament, and a warm homes Bill will be introduced to set a new target for tackling fuel poverty so that it may be challenged head on.

I received an email from Age Scotland this morning. It welcomes the fact that the Scottish Government have designated energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority. They have also given a commitment to invest half a billion pounds over the lifetime of this Parliament to tackle fuel poverty and promote energy efficiency. That is crucial, and it is what the UK Government need to do for homes in England and Wales, and to help in Northern Ireland. I know this does not come under the competency, but the Westminster Government is the largest Government in the UK and they must set an example.

As has been said, rural communities have particular issues with fuel poverty. In Scotland, the fuel poverty rate is 50% in rural areas compared with 32% in towns and cities, and a staggering 71% of homes in the Western Isles are in fuel poverty. Due to the demographics of these islands, pensioners are largely affected. Only this month, on 8 March, the Scottish Government announced a pilot scheme that will see 220 rural households offered support specific to the needs of older people in these islands to cut their energy bills. The pilot and its review will be used to develop the Scottish Government’s new fuel poverty strategy, due to be published later this year.

The Scottish Government have made huge efforts to minimise the number of older people affected by fuel poverty but are hampered by realities such as many rural homes being off the mains or off-grid, which means they cannot access gas supplies as the majority of us do—something most of us in this Chamber take for granted.

New powers to the Scottish Parliament will maintain winter fuel payments for pensioners in Scotland. Furthermore, early payments to almost 80,000 pensioners who live off-grid will also be made available so that they can take advantage of lower energy prices available during the summer months. That is a common sense idea that will help improve the lives of many older people. In addition, the winter fuel payment will be extended to families with children in receipt of the highest care component of disability living allowance.

As I have shown, the Scottish Government are already taking great steps to address fuel poverty. However, only so many powers to do so are located north of the border; the rest lie here at Westminster, and it is therefore here that the responsibility must lie. As has been mentioned, the fuel poverty rate for 2015 would have been 8.4% instead of 31% if fuel prices had only risen with inflation. Instead, the UK Government have allowed corporations to hike up energy prices, to the detriment of vulnerable groups who are in greater need of a warm home—a basic necessity which, let us be honest, can make the difference between life and death. The current cost of fuel poverty to NHS Scotland is calculated at £80 million per annum, and that must be much higher in the rest of the UK.

Increases in prices can outweigh everything that the Scottish Government are trying to do on fuel efficiency. No matter how much the Scottish Government spend, they can still have little impact on fuel prices across the UK. However, a Scottish Government Minister chaired a summit on 14 December last year urging energy companies to make a difference to low-income households living in fuel poverty and facing a poverty premium tax.