A report from Kenneth Gibson, MSP for Cunninghame North
On 06 and 07 December, I visited the Western Isles as part of the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee to take vital evidence on the SNP Government’s Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill.
The Bill sets a new target that no more than 5% of households in Scotland will live in fuel poverty by 2040. The figure is currently 26.5%.
The full Scottish definition of fuel poverty is: A household is in fuel poverty if, in order to maintain a satisfactory heating regime, it would be required to spend more than 10% of its income on all household fuel use.
Our visit was to allow local people to share their experiences of being in fuel poverty, how it impacts their day-to-day lives, barriers to seeking support and what could be improved in the Bill.
Fuel bills are generally higher in island communities, not least Arran and Cumbrae in my own constituency, due to homes being off the gas grid, harder to heat etc; With island proofing of all legislation, it is imperative that targets and resources are made available to address the needs of communities across our islands.
We visited the homes and spoke to residents of Lewis and Harris who had benefitted from energy advice and assistance from a local organisation Tighean Innse Gall. Many talked about how face to face support from a trusted organisation was vital to them, with time to build a relationship in order to get advice and access the support they require.
In the Western Isles, there are far higher rates of fuel poverty than most urban or suburban areas in Scotland and it is important to hear directly from communities such as these, to find out more about how their experiences may differ to those living in urban areas.
Visits such as this shape the Committee’s work in examining the Bill, ensuring it will help tackle and eradiate fuel poverty across Scotland in the future.
Notably, there was also full agreement that there should be a different measure of fuel poverty for island and remote rural areas and subsequent evidence from Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart confirmed that the SNP Government will work to that end.