Associate feature: When staying warm in your home is another choice in a life of impossible decisions
The ability to stay warm in our own home, without the constant worry of being able to afford it and the physical, mental and psychological damage that comes as a result, is one that many of us take for granted. But fuel poverty is a reality for hundreds of thousands of homes in Scotland, a daily part of the impossible decisions that have to be made as part of the broad experience of poverty.
Warmworks has experience of working with homes and families in fuel poverty, having managed Warmer Homes Scotland, the Scottish Government’s national fuel poverty scheme, since 2015. The scheme has already helped more than 20,000 households to save an average of £300 per year off their energy bills. There is no question that the Scottish Government is committed to tackling fuel poverty, underlined by the statutory target to eradicate fuel poverty as far as practicable by 2040. But if the 2040 target is to be achieved, how do we get to the root cause of the problem and place fuel poverty in its proper context?
The key is to break the problem down into its component parts and understand what else needs to be done across the board.
Fuel – this means addressing the energy efficiency of Scotland’s housing stock (lowering bills in the process) and ensuring that the energy market is adequately serving those most at risk. Energy Efficient Scotland has set out a road map to address the first point, with the imperative to tackle the existing housing stock ever more pressing, especially with the decarbonisation agenda and the drive towards a net-zero emissions Scotland. There is a win-win here, but we need to approach it in the right way. Doing so will create jobs, skills and the platform from which we can meet the challenge head on. In its delivery of Warmer Homes Scotland, Warmworks has established a supply chain of 22 local businesses and created almost 600 jobs and 130 apprenticeships. This approach works and it is scalable, but it rests on the ability to make the required fabric improvements and heating upgrades in a consistent, high-quality way. It also rests on the right level of resources and investment from Government and industry alike.
Poverty – someone who lives their life in poverty lives a life of impossible decisions that many of us struggle to comprehend. Is there enough money for the gas prepayment meter to put the heating on or do I spend it on the kids’ breakfast? If I get a parcel from the food bank, can I afford to put the cooker on to make the meal? If I leave just one room heated with the whole family in it, can my kids do homework there? These are the decisions that are made every day and addressing fuel poverty means forming a clear understanding of the people, couples and families who live these lives. Solutions need to cater for individual need, not be imposed and assumed.
Fuel poverty has never been a straightforward issue. It has always needed multiple intervention points and has always relied on the principle that one size does not fit all. If statutory targets are to be hit, it’s more important than ever for industry, key stakeholders and the Government to work together and set out the course to achieving these goals. That means resources, investment and scaling up the successes that we’ve already seen. Tough decisions are ahead, but our work is done on behalf of those that have to make impossible decisions every day.
Ross Armstrong is Warmworks’ Managing Director
This article was sponsored by Warmworks