GCU research highlights complexity of fuel poverty

12 December 2016

GCU research highlights complexity of fuel poverty

Energy spend in rural Scotland is significantly higher than urban areas.

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have found the energy-spend gap between urban and rural households in Scotland is significantly greater than that predicted by existing government figures.

Dr Keith Baker and PhD student Ron Mould led the research, named the Speird Project, which was funded by the Eaga Charitable Trust, a grant-giving trust that supports projects and research that contribute to combating fuel poverty.

A previous investigation by Mr Mould in Renfrewshire shows a significant difference between how much householders in urban and rural areas of the county are spending on heating.

For the Speird Project, Dr Baker and Mr Mould worked with a range of partners to acquire similar data for households in regions across the rest of Scotland, avoiding modelled or estimated data.

Dr Baker said: “As in Renfrewshire, we found a significant difference exists between the heating-fuel spend of households in urban areas and those in rural and island areas of Scotland. Statistics given in, for example, the Scottish Government’s annual Scottish House Conditions Survey are median statistics, which don’t offer an accurate geographical breakdown.”

He added that the research also provides significant new evidence to question the assumption that there is a linear relationship between household income and expenditure on energy for those on the highest and lowest incomes.

Other key findings of the research include evidence of rural householders self-limiting their expenditure on heating, and evidence of households where all occupants are full-time employed spending more on their energy needs than those in which all occupants were retired.

Dr Baker said: “The results serve to demonstrate how the nature and distribution of household expenditure on energy is the result of a wide and complex range of influences, including occupant behaviour, and this complexity is significantly greater among the fuel poor and households in rural and island areas.

“It’s worth bearing in mind that poor households are not necessarily fuel poor, just as fuel-poor households are not necessarily poor. Our research is questioning common assumptions about the nature of fuel poverty and how best to identify and support fuel-poor households, particularly the most vulnerable and socially isolated.

“What is needed is a risk-based approach that focuses on delivering maximum benefits to those most in need, while addressing the additional complexities of tackling the problem in rural and island areas.”

Assisting GCU in this study were ALIenergy (community energy organisation based in Lochaber and Argyll and Bute), Highland Council, Orkney Isles Council, Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association, and Scarf (community energy organisation based in Aberdeenshire).

The Speird Project report can be downloaded here.

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