The latest of the ScotE3 briefings to be updated is Briefing 7 which looks at Fuel Poverty. A week ago the UK Energy Regulator ‘OFGEN’ raised the price cap which governs electricity and gas prices for consumers. There will be sharp increases in gas prices in particular. The raising of the cap is good news for the energy companies and very bad news for the poor. There is no doubt that in the context of rising unemployment there will be an increase in already unacceptably high levels of fuel poverty.
Here’s the text of Briefing 7. You can download the briefing to read, print and distribute.
Fuel poverty kills
In Scotland, almost 25% of households live in fuel poverty and just over 12% are in extreme fuel poverty. Households in extreme fuel poverty are disproportionately represented in rural Scotland Older people living in rural Scotland are particularly hard hit. Every year thousands die because of fuel poverty – in 2018/19 excess winter mortality was 2060 – the death toll can be more than twice as high in cold winters. [Please note that at the time of writing all the data available predated Covid 19 – the pandemic is likely to have increased the figures we quote here.]
Rising fuel prices
From 2006 – 2016, Gas and Electricity prices rose by 71% and 62% respectively. Between 2017and 2020 electricity prices increased by a further 8% in real terms while gas prices fell by a similar amount. Gas prices are more volatile and steep price rises are taking place in 2021. Throughout Britain, it would cost £3billion – £8billion to end fuel poverty – a fraction of the cost of tax avoidance or defence.
A new policy
In June 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed a new act setting statutory targets for reducing fuel poverty. The bill is necessary and welcome but falls short of what is needed. Rightly it highlights the impact of fuel poverty on the most vulnerable in society. Low income, high-energy costs and
poorly insulated housing result in this appalling situation where families, young people, elderly, disabled and many working people, cannot afford adequate warmth. It also notes how measures to alleviate fuel poverty can have a positive impact on carbon emissions and create new jobs and links these measures to decarbonisation and the new Just Transitions Commission.
Lack of ambition
The new act sets interim targets for reducing fuel poverty to 15% of households by 2030 and final targets for 2040. In light of the climate threat we face this is way too slow. The act is sketchy on how targets will be achieved. Moreover, there is no recognition of the impending crisis of energy capacity in Scotland, which, if not addressed, will further impact heavily on the poorest, weakest and elderly in our communities. Some of these weaknesses could have been addressed in a Final Fuel Poverty Strategy that was due to be published u=in September 2020. However, this was put on hold because of Covid and is yet to be published.
There is no reason why Scotland could not produce an energy surplus. There is an abundance of renewable resources to hand. In light of the recent UN report, and the latest science, what’s needed is an integrated policy that aims for a zero carbon economy by 2030. Such a policy would eliminate fuel poverty and create many thousands of new jobs.
A mass insulation campaign
In its ‘One Million Climate Jobs Pamphlet’, the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) notes that
Three quarters of emissions from houses and flats … are caused by heating air and water. To reduce this we need to insulate and draught- proof the buildings, and replace inefficient boilers. This can cut the amount of energy used to heat the home and water by about 40% and delivers the double-whammy of reducing energy costs and helping mitigate the scourge of fuel poverty.
Based on these CACC estimates, which are for the whole of the UK, a campaign to properly insulate all homes in Scotland would employ around 20,000 construction workers for the next 20 years. This doesn’t account for additional jobs in education, training and manufacture that would spin off from such an endeavour. Through this carbon dioxide emissions from homes would be cut by 95%. We could ensure that all new houses are effectively carbon neutral. The technology exists – there are examples of ‘passive houses’ that use very little energy.
The current costs for fossil fuel power range from 4p -12p per kilowatt-hour. Inter renewable energy agency (IREA) state that renewable energy will cost 2p – 7p with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity for 2p or less. Renewable energy is necessary for a sustainable future and it is cheaper than fossil fuels. Current Westminster Government policy – notably the subsidy ban for new onshore wind farms – is impeding the shift to renewables. The ban could add £1billion onto fuel bills.
For the moment fracking is off the agenda in Scotland. The result of a magnificent campaign of resistance. But INEOS continues to import fracked gas from the US. This has to stop.
No market solution
Fuel Poverty is a direct result of the ”wrecking ball” of market forces dominating our need for energy to give us warmth, light and sustenance. In the pursuit of profit, the use of fossil fuels adds to the catastrophe of climate change.
We have the technology and skills to stop this madness and misery through a radical shift in Energy policy that would combine sustainable and renewable resources dedicated to social need. Tackling climate change would go hand in hand with creating additional jobs, eliminating fuel poverty, and improving health and well-being. To make this happen we need the kind of focus and the level of investment that has only normally applied at times of war. Ending the use of fossil fuels over a short period is practically possible provided there is the political will.