18 December 2006
Barrett calls for helping hand to ward off winter chill
John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, today tabled a motion in parliament calling on the Government to take urgent action to tackle the growing problem of fuel poverty across Scotland.
Recent estimates from Energy Action Scotland suggest that the number of households suffering from fuel poverty has rocked to 600,000 in the wake of the latest energy price hikes, up from around 280,000 households in 2003/04.
At the same time, new research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed that only 37% of the average pensioner’s winter fuel bill will be met by the £200 winter fuel allowance. In 2003, the winter fuel allowance covered over 50% of the total cost.
Mr Barrett has today launched a parliamentary motion calling for the Government to extend the winter fuel allowance to the severely disabled and to consider proposals for an increase in the winter fuel allowance alongside increased funding for energy saving initiatives.
John Barrett said:
“In this era of high energy prices, fuel poverty is once again a growing problem across Scotland, particularly for pensioners and severely disabled people. Soaring bills are leaving the Government’s target to eliminate fuel poverty by 2010 in tatters.
“With over half of over 55s in Scotland now cutting back on heating in an effort to reduce their heating bills it is clear that the Government needs to do more to protect the vulnerable from the winter chill.
“With heating bills rising, it is clear that after 10 years the time has come to look at ways to increase the winter fuel allowance and for real action to encourage people to properly insulate their homes, and sign up for other energy saving initiatives.
"Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and most effective way to meet cut carbon emissions and ensure that people can heat their homes. It is complete madness that the Government has this year decided to cut the Energy Saving Trust’s budget by removing VAT exemptions.
“Fuel poverty is closely linked with pensioner poverty. The harsh fact is that as long as the state pension remains insufficient to live on, there will continue to be elderly people forced to choose between heating their homes, and putting food on their plates.
“I hope that today’s motion will send a message to the treasury that more help is required to make sure that people across Scotland are able to heat their homes this winter.
Commenting on the call to extend the winter fuel payment to the severely disabled, Mr Barrett said:
“There are over a million severely disabled people who simply cannot keep their homes warm enough for fear of high fuel bills. For many of these people, keeping warm is critical to help with the therapy of their disability, including the need for hot water.
“I believe the measure of a decent society is how the most vulnerable in that society are treated. With this winter expected to be the coldest for over a decade, it is more important than ever to ensure we do all we can to help those most in need.”
• Research from the not-for-profit ‘Home Heat Helpline’ polled 1,595 over-55 year olds and found that over half (51%) are cutting back on their heating in an effort to reduce their bills. The study also found that 35% never pre-plan for winter.
• Energy Action Scotland estimate that 600,000 people across Scotland are now fuel poor as a result of domestic energy price rises this year.
• The Government figures below estimate the percentage of the average pensioner’s total annual fuel bill that will be covered by the over-60 winter fuel allowance.
Pensioner expenditure on fuel is unavailable from the Family Expenditure Survey in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Expenditure for these years is forecast using 2004-05 fuel expenditure uprated by fuel price inflation in 2005-06 and 2006-07. It has been assumed that energy prices will stay at second quarter of 2006 levels for the remainder of 2006-07.
Source: Family Expenditure Survey 2003-04, 2004-05; DWP Administrative data.
• Assuming that 60% of lighting and heating is consumed in the winter months of December, January and February the number of days that the Winter Fuel Allowance will cover in 2003/04 and 2006/07 are as follows:
• John Barrett MP will today tabled the following proposed Early Day Motion
That this House is extremely concerned at the most recent estimates from Energy Action Scotland which show that following the recent energy price rises, the number of households in Scotland suffering fuel poverty is now 600,000; recognises that this is a significant increase compared to figures for 2003/04 from Communities Scotland which found 286,000 households were fuel poor; notes the absence of a rise in winter fuel payments in the recent pre-budget report; believes far more needs to be done in Scotland to tackle fuel poverty; urges the Government to consider expanding its fuel poverty strategy by reducing VAT on energy efficiency materials, reversing its decision to impose VAT on Energy Savings Trust expenditure; and increasing the incentives for homeowners to invest in energy efficiency methods; further calls on the Government to extend winter fuel payments to the severely disabled.