Eradication of fuel poverty by 2016 'remains challenging'

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Housing and Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess said eradicating fuel poverty by 2014 "remains challenging" with rising energy prices on 23 January 2013.

The Scottish government aims to ensure that by November 2016, so far as is reasonably practicable, people are not living in fuel poverty in Scotland.

A person is living in fuel poverty if, to heat their home to a satisfactory standard, they would need to spend more than 10% of their household income on fuel.

Ms Burgess said the latest fuel poverty figures for Scotland, published in December 2012, showed that the Scottish government action was mitigating swingeing fuel price increases.

She said: "Despite punishing 14% fuel price increases in autumn 2011, improved household energy efficiency prevented a further 35,000 households from falling into fuel poverty.

"However, it gives me little comfort that 684,000 Scottish households (28.9%) were in fuel poverty in October 2011.

"So our target to eradicate fuel poverty as far as is reasonably practicable by 2016 remains challenging given the predictions that energy prices will continue to rise."

Ms Burgess went on to say the Scottish Parliament needed the powers to fully tackle the disgrace of fuel poverty.

The government have an Energy Assistance Package (which replaced the previous Warm Deal and the Central Heating Programme) and is designed to provide assistance tailored to the needs of individual households.

It offers energy efficiency advice, information on low cost energy tariffs, advice on income maximisation as well as a wide range of energy efficiency measures to those most at risk of fuel poverty.

The Energy Saving Trust manages delivery of the package on behalf of the Scottish government in partnership with a range of advice providers and the energy companies.

In June 2012 the Scottish government announced Scotland's National Retrofit Programme aiming to lever in at least £120 million from energy companies in addition to the government's funding to support the programme.

Ms Burgess concluded her opening speech saying: "The Scottish government has done and will continue to do all that it can within our existing powers to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty."

Labour MSP Richard Baker said that with "nearly one in three living in fuel poverty" in Scotland and too many older people being left to "choose between heating and eating", the scale of the problem was clear and it was right to ask if enough was being done.

Mr Baker said it was incumbent on the Scottish government to use the powers it had now, to the full extent, to tackle fuel poverty in Scotland.

He said with the target for eradicating fuel poverty only three years away the government should provide a detailed and clear plan on how it will be achieved, with milestones to be published.

Speaking for the Conservatives, Alex Johnstone MSP said the solution to fuel poverty lay not in "jingoistic political slogans" and urged the Scottish government to take a bolder approach.

Mr Johnstone said the real solution lay in a two pronged approach looking at insulation systems and a "fresh look at renewables", adding the Westminster government was committed to tackling fuel poverty.

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur said to achieve the eradication of fuel poverty would require Scotland and Westminster to work together and there was a danger Scottish government ministers were so "obsessed" with the independence referendum and the powers they did not have, passing up the opportunity to use the ones they did.

The second part of the debate can be viewed below

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