There has been a lot of attention recently on fuel poverty, and 748,000 fuel poor households marked a failed target to eradicate fuel poverty by November 2016. Two major reports were published last year by the Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group and the Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, and a Warm Homes Bill was promised in the next parliamentary term.
There’s been a common theme focusing on the need to widen efforts to tackle fuel poverty and specifically trying to include more people in the fight. One group who have been targeted is the health sector. The two major fuel poverty reports published last year both recommended greater partnership working with the health sector to tackle fuel poverty and guidance to directors of public health also focused on what role they could play.
The health effects of fuel poverty and living in a cold and damp home are well documented. Cold homes are linked to cardiovascular, respiratory and mental health problems. Children in cold homes are twice as likely to suffer respiratory problems. Living in a cold home can increase the incidence of common colds and flu, and make conditions like arthritis and rheumatism worse. In its most extreme form, cold homes caused some of the 2,850 Excess Winter Deaths (EWD) in Scotland last year.
We are not, however, working from a blank slate in tackling this issue: there are already lots of projects linking fuel poverty and health. Some schemes of assistance are available for households with certain health conditions, others seek referrals from health practitioners to identify people in need of support, and efforts are being made to add to the existing bank of knowledge on the health impacts of assistance.
What was lacking in the sector, however, was a central location for information on these schemes: what barriers do they face? What does success look like? How have challenges been overcome? How have others managed to jump through all the hoops to get funding, prompt referrals, and beat data protection issues? What is actually going on in different parts of the country?
So in September 2016, Shelter Scotland and Energy Action Scotland partnered to create a catalogue of health-related fuel poverty schemes to try and answer some of these questions. This was based on a similar project in England, when in December 2014, the former Department of Energy and Climate Change commissioned National Energy Action (NEA) to carry out an online survey to catalogue local schemes that were targeting individuals with health problems for energy efficiency measures and other fuel poverty interventions. Acknowledging the potential benefit of this catalogue, and the lack of a similar document cataloguing schemes north of the border, Shelter Scotland and Energy Action Scotland set out to create a Scottish version.
The survey launched in October 2016 and was disseminated to stakeholders through Energy Action Scotland and Shelter Scotland contacts and through other networks. The survey closed in mid-November. Thirty-one responses were recorded, with 25 included in the main catalogue, and 6 in the appendix where no health-related component could be identified. Six schemes were then chosen, based on certain criteria, for a follow up interview. In these follow ups, we attempted to provide a bit of a fuller picture of what the respective schemes involve and the successes and challenges they have faced.
We hope that the catalogue can help share and highlight the experiences of the different schemes, such as the difficulties in accessing what can be short-term, ad hoc funding and dealing with data protection issues, and lead to a more cohesive, national approach for tackling fuel poverty through links with health.
The catalogue, co-authored by Energy Action Scotland and Shelter Scotland, has just been published and is available on our website.