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Community / Fuel poverty: councillor keen to see focus kept on those ‘genuinely really in need’

A COUNCILLOR has warned that amid the stark fuel poverty predictions released last week focus must not be lost on the impact rising bills will have on the lower income families in Shetland.

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall said while new analysis suggests 96 per cent of Shetland households could be in fuel poverty come April next year, those with bigger salaries have will enough income to mitigate the impact.

But fellow councillor Neil Pearson said middle level households who traditionally could afford to pay their bills are now also being drawn into poverty.

It comes as the latest report on child poverty in Shetland was presented to a meeting of the council’s education and families committee on Tuesday.

It falls against a backdrop of a cost of living crisis, with rising energy bills at its core.

New data from council released last week suggested if energy prices rise as expected a household in Shetland – where bills are naturally greater – would need to earn more than £104,000 to stay out of fuel poverty.

It received national media attention ahead of a planned UK energy price cap rise in October.

But Lyall said she was “slightly uncomfortable” with the release of the figures.

Local fuel poverty rate could skyrocket to 96%, council analysis suggests

“Whilst the definition of fuel poverty probably brings that figure out, people who are earning 70, 80, 90, 100 thousand have far higher levels of discretionary spending,” she said.

“So while technically they may end up spending 10 per cent of their income on fuel, the chances are that they will be able to make choices with the large part of their discretionary earnings to cover that and still be able to be living reasonably comfortable lives.”

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

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Lyall said she would not like to see the figures distract from the fact that at the “bottom end of the scale there are people with real needs”.

“The impact on those families on low incomes is going to be so much greater than those who are up your top end of the scale.

“I would love for us to ensure we keep the focus on those who are genuinely really in need.”

But committee chairman Davie Sandison said the child poverty report highlights that effort is being targeted at those most in need. 

Figures released in July showed that 18.7 per cent of children in Shetland were deemed to be in poverty, or 769 people.

The latest annual child poverty report highlights there is concern about how things will pan out in the near future.

An introduction from council leader Emma Macdonald and NHS Shetland chair Gary Robinson said: “We know that, in Shetland, we have very effective partnership working in place, at both a strategic and operational level.

“Our families and communities benefit from experienced staff, who focus on the impact they can have; adjusting support and working in an agile way to achieve this.

“Yet this is no longer enough – many families in Shetland are really struggling, which is only going to get worse, pushing more and more of Shetland’s children into poverty.”

The report highlights a number of ways local services are looking to improve the child poverty situation, from the Anchor early intervention project to expanding childcare and reducing the cost of the ‘school day’.

Lerwick South member John Fraser said while the term child poverty is used, all forms of poverty are interlinked.

Meanwhile the independent councillor had one parting shot on the issue.

“If you really want to tackle poverty – really genuinely want to take one firm action in order to eradicate or tackle poverty,” he said, “is speak to all your family, friends, connections the length and breadth of the country – and tell them, do not vote Tory.”

The Conservative UK Government said in response to the council’s fuel poverty data last week: “We know the pressures people in Shetland and across the UK are facing with rising costs, which is why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in £37 billion worth of support.”

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