Middle-earning Scottish household will start struggling to heat and power their homes from this year thanks to large hikes in energy costs, according to an official study. The number of homes north of the Border in “fuel poverty” is expected to have increased rapidly to 800,000 last year – more than a third of the total – thanks to rising energy bills.
If heating and electricity prices continue to spiral at the same rate, the report found that the “median household” in Scotland will find it difficult to afford their bills from this year.
It is projected that middle-class Scots will be spending 12 per cent of their income paying for electricity and heating by 2015, but the Tories warned the SNP’s focus on expensive wind power would make the situation worse.
Although ministers have focused the efforts on helping people on benefits, the study found that more than a third (38 per cent) of those in fuel poverty are middle class or wealthy.
Fuel poverty is defined as a household spending more than 10 per cent of its income on energy bills. The Scottish Government has promised to eradicate the scourge “as far as is reasonably practical” by 2016.
However, the study suggested this is a forlorn hope, noting that energy bills have risen at the six times the rate of household income in recent years. British Gas, which includes Scottish Gas, recently reported profits of £2 million a day.
Alex Neil, the SNP Infrastructure Minister, said: “Scotland is an energy rich nation and no one should have to choose between heating and eating.
“That is why we are continuing to lobby the UK Government to take a firmer stance with energy companies.”
But Alex Johnstone, Scottish Tory housing spokesman, blamed the SNP’s “obsession with renewables”. He said: “The Scottish Government’s policy of pursuing wind generated electricity is causing household energy bills to rise, intensifying the fuel poverty situation across Scotland as a result.”
The study, the Fuel Poverty Evidence Review, found the Scottish Government’s efforts to improve homes’ energy efficiency cannot tackle the problem “given the current economic conditions”.
Between 2003/4 and 2010, the average annual household income increased by slightly more than 11 per cent but energy bills rose by more than 70 per cent over the same period.
Fuel poverty among middle-class Scots has increased by 10 per cent over the past six years, while the rise among the wealthiest households has been three per cent.
Around one in seven of the most affluent people now struggle to pay their bills, a fact the study attributes to them living in old properties that are expensive to heat and power.
Pensioners, people in rural areas and those who own their homes outright are more likely to be in fuel poverty, but there is no proven link with more elderly people dying in winter.
Actual data for 2011 will not be available until later this year, but the report projected that rising energy bills means there will have been a seven per cent increase in households suffering from fuel poverty, from 658,000 to 800,000.
The study estimated 35 per cent of all households now fall into this category, but it is twice as common in rural areas, with the Orkney Islands and Western Isles the worst afflicted.