Coping with the cold spell
How have you been coping with the cold spell? Did you turn up the heating and settle down to a few extra days indoors? Quite a few of us probably did so, especially as global warming just now seems a long way away.
But for too many Scots that was not an option. Just before the cold started to bite, the latest figures from the Scottish House Condition Survey showed around 770,000 Scottish households in fuel poverty – about one in three of us having to spend more than 10% of available income in keeping our homes reasonably warm, with one in ten in extreme fuel poverty, having to spend 20% of our income.
The figures won't register the impact of the cold spell, since they rely on a notional calculation for typical weather patterns. But those in fuel poverty will certainly feel the impact. For pensioners, the option of spending time in a library or shopping centre has been snowed off; for families, the struggle will be how to scrape together cash to keep the kids warm when they're off nursery or school just as Christmas spending looms large in their budgeting dilemmas.
Living in a cold home isn't just uncomfortable. It contributes to excess winter deaths and many other health problems. Recent studies have found that the adverse effect on health means that investment in tackling fuel poverty will help make savings for the NHS, with estimates that every £1 spent on fuel poverty reduces the cost to the NHS by 42p.
It was back in the mid 1990s that the pioneering work of the Scottish House Condition Survey brought to light the struggle that many households were having to meet their fuel bills. In 1996, the first reliable figures showed just over 750,000 households in fuel poverty.