Redefine the meaning of fuel poverty to better help Scots affected, say experts

Definitions of fuel poverty need to be rethought to allow better understanding of the issue, a team of Scots experts have said.

For millions of elderly and vulnerable people, winter brings real fear about the cold days ahead.
For millions of elderly and vulnerable people, winter brings real fear about the cold days ahead.

Analysis by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) Energy Action Scotland, and Renfrewshire Council found that reconceptualising fuel poverty as a complex social problem - and not just a lack of cash - could be used to drive tailored and holistic ‘folk-first’ solutions.

The latest figures showed 649,000 households were classed as being in fuel poverty in 2016.

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Dr Keith Baker of GCU, who led the research, said: “Most countries that recognise the condition of fuel or energy poverty use definitions based on the ‘10 per cent of income’ definition formalised by Professor Brenda Boardman of Oxford University in 1991.

“However, this definition is limited by the use of a single, blunt threshold for household expenditure on energy costs, usually for heating, set against the modelled amount of energy needed to maintain the minimum indoor temperatures recommended by the World Health Organisation.

“This methodology has led to a focus on a building’s energy performance and the occupants’ household income which, serves to drive ‘fabric-first’ solutions. This way of tackling the problem prioritises the elimination of poor energy efficiency as a way of dealing with fuel poverty, at the expense of more holistic interventions.

The research team also argue that understanding fuel poverty in the Scottish context should include acknowledging that the energy spend gap between households in rural and island areas and those in Scotland’s towns and cities urban areas is greater than official statistics suggest.

In May, some 50 organisations from across Scotland have joined forces to call for “real action” from the government in tackling fuel poverty.

The groups, led by the Existing Homes Alliance, fear the Scottish Government’s planned Warm Homes Bill will be a missed opportunity unless steps are taken to beef up the legislation.

Ministers have already committed that the bill will enshrine in legislation their “long-term ambition to eradicate fuel poverty”