Fuel poverty gap widens between urban and rural Scotland

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More than two fifths of Scots living in rural areas are estimated to be suffering from fuel poverty, compared to just one in five of those living in towns and cities.

While overall the proportion of households struggling to heat their homes fell to its lowest for more than a decade, new figures revealed a widening gap between urban and rural Scotland.

Fuel poverty – which is defined as when households spend more than 10% of their income on fuel – fell from 24% to an estimated 21% in urban Scotland between 2016 and 2017.

But the figures, contained in the latest Scottish House Condition Survey, estimated 43% of homes in rural areas were in this category.

With more houses in remote parts of Scotland using oil for their heating systems, the report said: “This is likely to be driven by gas prices continuing to fall in 2017, while oil prices increased by 24% between 2016 and 2017.”

Overall it was estimated a quarter (24.9%) of homes in Scotland – 613,000 households – were affected by fuel poverty in 2017.

That is down from 649,000 households the previous year, with fuel poverty at the lowest levels since 2005-06.

More than two thirds (68%) of all homes have “some degree of disrepair”, however minor this may be, the 2017 housing survey found.

This includes over a quarter (28%) which had some urgent disrepair, while 5% of housing stock was found to have “extensive disrepair”.

The survey said while none of these were significantly different from 2016 there was a “longer-term trend of improvement”.

Conservative housing spokesman Graham Simpson argued Scottish Government initiatives had “very little impact” in tackling fuel poverty.

“The absence of any substantial improvements on both fuel poverty and housing conditions is a real failure by the SNP,” he said.

“The SNP have claimed multiple times that they are committed to tackling fuel poverty and yet they have clearly had very little impact.

“It’s significant that the fuel poverty gap between urban and rural Scotland has widened.

“The SNP are letting down vast swathes of the country, who pay more for their energy.”

Meanwhile Green housing spokesman Andy Wighman said it was “simply unacceptable that 50% of homes in Scotland have disrepair to critical elements that exacerbates fuel poverty”.

He added: “The fact that fuel poverty rates haven’t changed much in the last year in Scotland demonstrates the urgent need for the Fuel Poverty Bill to make a difference.”

The Scottish Government said by 2021 it will have allocated more than £1 billion to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency.

Scotland’s Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “We recognise the challenges that remote rural communities face and we already provide extensive support – including financial support – to remote, rural and island communities.

“We are working across government and with partners to tackle the different aspects of fuel poverty and ensure we are prioritising support to those who need it most to bring about the transformation we need to see.”

He added: “Critical disrepair is recorded where there is any disrepair, no matter how small, to the critical elements of the dwelling.

“Although some disrepair to critical elements is fairly common it tends to be at a relatively low level in each property, affecting on average no more than 2.5% of the relevant area, such as the wall finish or roof covering.”

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