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Housing Energy Efficiency

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:45 am on 30th March 2000.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 11:45 am, 30th March 2000

As other members have said, there is an unacceptable level of fuel poverty in Scotland. I want to thank Shelter, Energy Action Scotland and the Scottish Warm Homes Campaign for providing MSPs from all parties with briefing papers. Nobody in Parliament will dispute the conservative estimate that a quarter of our population is too poor to keep warm, or that those who are poorest—pensioners, single parents and the chronically ill—are the same people who are forced to live in the poorest and worst housing.

Investment in housing is essential if we are to make a serious attempt to tackle fuel poverty. The Government's pensioners bonus is welcome, but it is sad to see—as Robin Harper said—that the money is escaping from the purses of our pensioners to the profits of the fuel companies. The extent of the problem is that there are half a million households in Scotland—the most energy-rich nation in Europe—that cannot afford adequate heating. Surely that should have put fuel poverty at the centre of the Executive's programme. The SNP hoped that that would happen.

When the Executive launched its flagship social inclusion document, "Social Justice . . . A Scotland Where Everyone Matters", in a blaze of publicity last year, we might have expected that the fuel poverty problem would be addressed, but how disappointed we were. Instead of addressing fuel poverty, the document sets out an impressive list of targets, milestones and statistical indicators, from the number of mothers who smoke during pregnancy to the number of people who draw an old-age pension and still take exercise.

Such precision and attention to detail might have inspired confidence, but anybody who looked for hope for those who are in fuel poverty was sorely disappointed. Rather than setting a target, the document simply says that the Executive will increase

"the quality and variety of homes in our most disadvantaged communities."

There is no mention of how many homes that means, how quickly it will happen or when it will happen. Why? The same answer is repeated time and again—we are told by ministers that the warm deal will meet Scotland's needs with a budget of £12 million per annum.

Looking back through the answers and exchanges on the matter, I was astonished to see the range of needs that the £12 million warm deal is meant to address. Until now, the warm deal has been the minister's stock answer to questions on matters that range from provision for the elderly to the time scale of a fuel poverty review. As Frank McAveety said today, the warm deal can be used to tackle draught-proofing and insulation; it can be used for lagging pipes and tanks; it can be used for advice; and it can be used to buy energy-efficient light bulbs.

The warm deal, however, will not install any new heating systems and it will not install a single new boiler or radiator. Such things are beyond the parameters of the warm deal in Scotland—in contrast with the situation south of the border. Even if the Government had a 100 per cent take-up rate, the warm deal would affect only one sixth of the families who are unable to afford heating. It is not a warm deal—it is a raw deal. It is a raw deal for the people who need things to get better. Perhaps that is why the Executive has not included fuel poverty in its glossy list of targets and milestones. Theirs is a Scotland where everybody matters—unless one is old, ill, cold or poor.

I welcome Frank McAveety's honesty in acknowledging the limits of the warm deal. The warm deal is not a panacea for fuel poverty. Perhaps for the first time, we can have the kind of debate that we need to have, so that we can genuinely tackle fuel poverty and bring hope to the half a million people in Scotland who are suffering.

The time is now—Parliament can do something about alleviating the problem, but we must all get together to achieve that. The first step towards achieving that will be admission by ministers that the warm deal, far from being commendable, has not solved and will not solve the problems of fuel poverty in Scotland.