We need more than warm words to beat fuel poverty


Lori McElroy argues as temperatures plunge the Scottish Government must use its winter budget to commit to essential energy efficiency measures 

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11th December 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

This week the cold is due to really start to bite in Scotland, with northerly winds bringing freezing air down from the Arctic. It comes just after Scotland’s latest fuel poverty figures were published.

They showed a very welcome fall in the number of households in fuel poverty, but the cold, hard facts are that more than one in four Scottish households are still fuel poor. In rural areas that figure goes up to over one in three. And there are worrying signs of a freeze in the momentum to end the scandal of cold, hard-to-heat homes.

The report from the Scottish House Condition Survey says that although "the long-term trend in the energy efficiency of the housing stock continues to improve… change in the last couple of years’ has been less evident".

This is literally a matter of life and death: 2,720 more people died in winter 2016/17 compared with warmer months of the year. The five-year moving average for excess winter deaths has barely changed since the early 2000s. Research by the World Health Organisation says that around 30% of these deaths could have been avoided if everyone in Scotland lived in a home that was adequately insulated and heated.

The Existing Homes Alliance believes this week’s budget should double the amount of money available for warm homes

So now is the time for the Scottish Government to prove its commitment to warm homes.

The Programme for Government committed to making more than £0.5 billion over the next four years for Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP).

We welcomed the promise of multi-year funding – it provides a measure of stability and certainty for everyone involved in making Scotland’s homes warmer. But the amount of money falls well short of what is required.

The Existing Homes Alliance believes this week’s budget should double the amount of money available for warm homes. We need to gradually scale up to at least £450m of total public funding per year by the end of this parliament.

That investment will allow us to make sure the vast majority of homes in Scotland have an Energy Performance Certificate of Band C by 2025. That should be key milestone for the SEEP programme, and all the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament already support a target of Band C for all homes where it is technically feasible by 2025-30.

We need new regulation and planning controls, backed by market incentives, to improve the energy performance of existing homes. That includes asking the Scottish Parliament to use its powers over council tax, and the land and building transaction tax, to help home-owners invest in making their homes warmer.

We need a new independent national body to oversee the delivery of SEEP, and a new legal duty on councils to produce Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies.

Done right, these kinds of actions could help us cut our climate emissions, help eradicate fuel poverty, boost jobs and the economy, and make a real difference to the health and prosperity of this generation of Scots and all the generations to come.

Scotland failed to meet its target of eradicating fuel poverty by November this year. That was shameful and it must never happen again. As temperatures plunge this winter, people don't need warm words: they need warm homes. 

Lori McElroy is chair of the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland