Fuel poverty is being unable to heat your home. Fuel poverty means having to make that choice between heating and eating. Fuel poverty means cold, damp homes.
Fuel poverty is a wider issue however than not being able to pay your heating bills. It has direct effects on your health: it worsens respiratory conditions, circulatory diseases. It affects your mental health as you struggle with high energy bills, and deal with energy debt. There are links between fuel poverty and increased mortality in winter, and links with health inequalities. Fuel poverty leads to repeat visits to your GP, and increased hospital visits.
Indirect effects include the effect on your health when you are unable to afford to pay the electricity to power the fridge which has your medication in it that you need to keep chilled. The effect on your health when you can’t afford the energy to pay for the lift in your home to help you get out of bed. The effect on your diet when you have to get food from the food bank which doesn’t need to be cooked. The effect on your children when they struggle in school and their attainment drops as there are no warm rooms for them to do their homework in. The effect when you don’t want to invite people into your home as it is so cold and mouldy which can then lead to social isolation and loneliness.
One of the key messages of Challenge Poverty Week is that poverty exists in Scotland and affects us all. Everyone is affected by fuel poverty. 26.5% of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty. 10% of these households are families with children while 41% are older households. The likelihood is that you or someone you know is currently living in the misery of fuel poverty.
So what is the solution?
The Scottish Government now recognises the seriousness of this issue, after much work by campaign groups such as EAS, and has made a commitment to address fuel poverty. They have introduced the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill which proposes to reduce fuel poverty to 5% by the year 2040. This new Bill will also introduce a new definition of fuel poverty that will focus on lower income households, and will develop a new long-term fuel poverty strategy.
The Scottish Government funds fuel poverty schemes and you can get energy efficient improvements made to your home which will help you save money on your bills. You might qualify for the Warm Home Discount scheme, or benefits like winter fuel payment or cold weather payments. There are also funds which can help you clear energy debt.
There is help out there. There are local energy advice agencies, environmental charities, Citizens Advice Bureaux, housing associations, energy teams in local authorities.
There are things you can do to help yourself. You can go to one of the above agencies and ask for help. You can hang thermal curtains in your windows and fit low energy bulbs to save money. You can switch your energy supplier.
Fuel poverty can be resolved; it just needs increased investment, increased collaboration and increased will to solve it. We all need to work together to ensure another generation of children are not condemned to poor health and outcomes.