Fuel Poverty

– in the Scottish Parliament on 27th April 2022.

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Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

7. To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to help people experiencing fuel poverty as a result of increased energy bills. (S6O-01004)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We recognise the immense financial strain that households are experiencing as energy prices rise. As powers over energy markets are reserved, we are pressing for more action from the United Kingdom Government to help hard-pressed consumers.

Meanwhile, we are doing everything that we can within our powers to help. Through our £290 million cost of living support package, we are giving 1.85 million Scottish households £150 of extra support in April. We are also allocating a further £10 million to continue our fuel insecurity fund, which has since 2020 helped households that are at risk of severely rationing their energy use or self-disconnecting entirely.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

Increased energy bills mean that many people in my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston and across the country have to choose between heating and eating. Given that energy powers are largely reserved, as the cabinet secretary said, does he agree that the crisis demands immediate action from the UK Government and that cutting VAT on energy bills would be a simple and effective way to support people during this very difficult time?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We have set out a range of measures that the UK Government should take to help to avert the crisis that many households face—the question whether they can afford to heat or to eat—given the very significant increase in energy prices and the prospect of those prices increasing again in the autumn, when the price cap is reviewed. In the short term, one measure that the UK Government could take is to cut VAT on energy bills, which would help to reduce pressure on household budgets. We urged the UK Government to take action on that issue in January and again in the past month.

It is important for the UK Government to recognise the crisis that many households face with not just the increasing costs of energy bills but the increased cost of living in general. It must respond much more effectively than it has done with its severe lack of response to date.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

Presiding Officer,

“Energy is not a luxury; people have to be able to heat their homes. That is why it is so important that we do everything that we can, within our powers and resources, to help people to do that.”—[Official Report, 10 March 2022; c 24.]

Those were the First Minister’s words in the chamber last month. Labour-run North Ayrshire Council is tackling rising energy costs by pioneering publicly owned energy production, but we need that kind of ambition on a national scale. Will the Scottish Government look again at a model of publicly owned energy for the whole of Scotland?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member makes an important point about a person’s basic right to be able to heat their home and about the fact that Scotland has one of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the whole UK, which is largely because of our rural environment.

The member will recognise the reality that we would require to be an independent country to operate a national public energy company that could deal with energy production and retail, because we would need the powers to borrow in the market in order to invest in the market and we would also have to have control over the energy market. That is why countries in Scandinavia have been very successful and effective in such an approach and why we believe that the best way to control our energy use in Scotland and our energy market in the future is through our having full control over those issues and making such decisions right here in Scotland.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

How will the Scottish Government ensure that sufficient funds are available to those who need insulation or replacement heating systems for their homes—especially those who are on restricted incomes or in rural and island areas with high levels of fuel poverty?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Given the experience that households are having now with energy prices, we are increasing our support in three areas. One is expanding Home Energy Scotland’s advice service, which provides free impartial advice to households. Home Energy Scotland has seen a 20 per cent increase in the support that it can provide.

We are widening the eligibility criteria for the Scottish Government’s warmer homes Scotland fuel poverty programme, which will expand the programme to more households, including those that are occupied by people who are between 60 and 75 years of age. We are also increasing funding for individual fuel-poor households through the area-based energy schemes. Alongside that, we are expanding our wider energy programme with insulation programmes for properties.

We are taking forward the measures that we can take forward to help to reduce people’s energy costs, because the cheapest energy that people get is the energy that they do not use. That is why we need to ensure that energy efficiency is a key strand of our work, which will help to reduce energy use not only in the short term but in the medium to longer term. That will also help to tackle our climate change challenge.