Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur today met with both the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart MSP, and the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP, to discuss concerns around rural fuel poverty.
The meeting followed a commitment given to Mr McArthur by Mr Yousaf during Stage 2 consideration of the Islands Bill to discuss ways in which the government’s approach to tackling fuel poverty could be ‘island proofed’.
According to official government figures, Orkney remains the area worst-affected by fuel poverty, with around two thirds of households estimated to be paying ten per cent or more of income on heating. While every part of the country is affected, rural areas appear to suffer the highest levels of fuel poverty.
Mr McArthur has voiced his concerns that the government’s redefinition of fuel poverty, and the decision to use a single minimum income standard to determine levels of fuel poverty, will make it more difficult to tackle the problem in rural areas. Instead, Orkney’s MSP has called for account to be taken of the recognised minimum income standard for remote and rural areas, a call backed by all local authorities and housing associations in the Highlands & Islands, as well as organisations including Age Scotland, Citizens Advice and Shelter.
Commenting after the meeting, Mr McArthur said:
“Next week will see parliament vote on the final stage of the Islands Bill. The flagship commitment of this bill is supposed to ensure that all future legislation and policy is ‘island proofed’ so that it takes into account the specific needs and circumstances of island communities.
“While fuel poverty is not simply an island issue, all the evidence shows that it affects island communities more than others. All the more reason therefore that the government should recognise the need to ‘island proof’ their approach to tackling the problem.
“Ministers have already accepted that there is a rural dimension to fuel poverty which requires a tailored approach to be taken. That is why they agreed to set up a Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force, under the chairmanship of Di Alexander.
“However, it is important that Ministers now listen to the strong advice from Mr Alexander and the Task Force that defining fuel poverty using a single minimum income standard for the whole country is wrong. Such an approach ignores the higher costs of rural living, will artificially reduce the numbers estimated to be in fuel poverty and make efforts to tackle the problem in rural and island areas even more challenging.
“Today’s meeting was helpful in providing an opportunity to reinforce that message. Mr Stewart has also committed to continue engaging with the organisations across the Highlands & Islands that remain concerned by the approach he is taking. That is welcome, but the Minister must now show that he is willing to listen to the advice he is being given by those with the expertise on the ground.
“If not, the idea of ‘island proofing’ will be dead in the water before the Queen has a chance to given her Royal Assent to the Islands Bill".