Even defining what fuel poverty is can be difficult. Section 95 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 defines fuel poverty as being a household living in a home which cannot be kept warm “at reasonable cost.” The Scottish Government says this definition this is helpful, but it is hard to see why.
The Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Group has adopted a different definition, and thankfully that is easier to work with. They say a household is in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain a satisfactory heating regime, it would be required to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on all household fuel use.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Scotland has the five top cities and towns for fuel poverty in the UK, after all we live in a colder and damper climate. But it surely is something that must be acted upon. Scotland will also have more people living in fuel poverty in rural and remote areas, as often homes in rural areas have fewer choices of domestic fuel as they are off the gas grid, and properties can be harder and more expensive to make energy efficient.
The most likely scenarios in homes in fuel poverty are that families are either sitting in cold and damp conditions, or they are getting themselves into debt in order to provide acceptable living conditions. Families getting into debt is particularly iniquitous because it begins a spiral that can lead to worsening conditions or that simply gets harder and harder to get out of.
While work can be done to make homes more energy efficient, surely ensuring that every dwelling has access to affordable warmth is a laudable ambition for a reasonable society, and one that cannot be beyond our abilities.