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News / Report: two thirds of elderly are ‘fuel poor’

Dr Sarah Skerratt is calling for new measures to combat fuel poverty in remote and rural areas.

MORE THAN two thirds of Shetlanders over the age of 60 are living in fuel poverty, according to a stark new report issued by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

Shetland’s figure of 69 per cent is far above the 45 per cent average in urban areas and considerably higher than the 59 per cent in all rural local authorities – though it is slightly lower than in Orkney and the Western Isles, where three in every four pensioners are deemed to be fuel poor.

The findings are contained within the SRUC’s report ‘Rural Scotland in Focus 2014’, published on Monday.

Its authors are calling for investment in anti-poverty policies and measuring tools which cater more effectively towards the needs of those in more remote rural areas.

They suggest the rural poor are falling into the gaps between national and rural policies designed to address poverty, and feel national measures of poverty are inadequate for use in areas with low population and dispersed settlements.

Report editor Dr Sarah Skerratt said: “The cost of household heating is just one area of poverty in which there is an imbalance between rural and urban Scotland.

“Poverty and disadvantage in rural areas often remain hidden because national policies and measuring tools do not cater sufficiently for the needs of rural areas, while rural strategies do not consistently highlight poverty or how to address it.”

Dr Skerratt added that finding measures to tackle poverty were vital and the cost of such changes would be “less than the ongoing cost of people in rural Scotland continuing to live in poverty”.

Tackling fuel poverty amongst older generations will be especially acute in Shetland, the report suggests, as the proportion of people of pensionable age is forecast to increase by 47.5 per cent in the next 20 years. That is significantly higher than the 34.5 per cent increase forecast in Orkney.

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Meanwhile Labour’s Highlands and Islands list MSP Rhoda Grant has expressed concern at the findings of research by The Children’s Society estimating more than 300 children in Shetland and Orkney are living in houses which are too cold.

Grant urged low income families to find out if they are eligible for the warm home discount scheme which provides a £135 rebate on energy bills.

She said: “I am very concerned that parents face the choice of feeding their families with a decent meal and keeping the heating on.

“[The scheme] will make a real difference to families in poverty who are struggling hard to pay energy bills.”

SIC convener Malcolm Bell pointed to figures from a survey of fuel bills carried out by Lerwick’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

Published in December, it found that 40 per cent of all island households were in fuel poverty, whereby their energy needs account for 10 per cent or more of their budget.

Of those around 13 per cent are estimated to be in “extreme” fuel poverty, where energy accounts for 15 per cent or more of the household budget. 

Shetland households spend an average of £169 a week on fuel, more than treble the UK average of £53 a week.

“Of course we are concerned about anyone facing such a serious challenge, and our staff and services work hard to do what they can to support those members of the community most at risk,” Bell said.

“I’d encourage anyone in difficulty to contact Shetland CAB, but any initiative which seeks to address this is of course most welcome.”

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