Join the campaign for warm homes

As energy suppliers once more hike up their prices, Age Scotland joins the call for action to keep our homes warm.

Cold hands

Fuel poverty is a national scandal, with more than half of single pensioners fuel poor.  At both Scottish and UK levels schemes have been established to tackle fuel poverty; the Scottish Government’s Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland (HEEPS) and the Westminster Government’s Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation. But there has been some slippage around implementing these, with the poor results so far for the Green Deal being particularly concerning.

Much of the cost of the UK Government’s schemes is levied as an added cost on household fuel bills, which means that those already struggling to pay their bills are disproportionately penalised.  This needs to change.

Part of the solution to fuel poverty is for the UK Government to use the money it gets from carbon taxes to help make homes super-energy efficient – with excellent insulation, renewable energy and modern boilers.  The UK Government taxes big companies for the damage their carbon emissions cause to people and the environment. These taxes are used by the Government to help combat climate change and wean the UK off dirty fossil fuels.  That’s a good objective, but the money the Government receives isn’t being used to help people use less energy to heat their homes – which would cut carbon emissions even further AND cut people’s energy bills.  The companies eventually pass these taxes on to consumers and they end up on our bills. Over the next 15 years Westminster will raise an average of £4 billion every year in carbon taxes.

Recycling carbon revenue to make homes super-energy efficient could bring 9 out of 10 homes out of fuel poverty. It could also be used to quadruple savings in carbon emissions compared to the Government’s new energy efficiency schemes and create up to 200,000 jobs – exactly what we need to support the UK’s economic recovery.

If you agree please send an e-message to your MP.

We can also make a difference by encouraging older people across Scotland to find out about, and take advantage of, existing help for cutting home energy bills.  Home Energy Scotland can carry out a free home energy check, no matter what your circumstances, or wherever you live in Scotland. 

Warm homes graphic

Independence debate must not shackle policy development

In light of new research showing the persistence of poverty and health inequalities  we need to ensure the independence debate doesn’t shackle policy development, says Lindsay Scott.

MSPS-report

New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) on poverty and social exclusion in Scotland has brought into stark relief growing health inequalities and a substantial increase in unemployment.

Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Scotland 2013 is JRF’s sixth assessment of poverty in Scotland. It uses the latest Government data and assesses a wide range of factors including unemployment, education, and health.

The research reveals genuine and growing problems that need serious action, including:

  • A boy born in the most deprived 10 per cent of areas has a life expectancy of 68 – 8 years below the national average and 14 years below boys born in the least deprived areas
  • Since 2008, the number of under-25s who are unemployed has almost doubled, to 90,000
  • The number of people working part-time, who want a full-time job, has risen from 70,000 in 2008 to 120,000 in 2012
  • Rates of mortality for heart disease (100 per 100,000 people aged under 75) are twice as high in deprived areas as the Scottish average
  • Cancer mortality rates in the poorest areas (200 per 100,000) are 50% higher than average, and have not fallen in the last decade, while the average has fallen by one-sixth

On a brighter note, between 2001 and 2011, pensioner poverty saw a huge fall, from 230,000 to 120,000. This fall is also reflected elsewhere in the UK.

From now until the Independence Referendum in late 2014, the issue of independence will no doubt dominate the Scottish political landscape. At the moment, poverty is far from central to the independence debate, but it is important that it becomes so.

This discussion is, after all, about the kind of country Scotland wants to be, It must therefore cover areas that are central to tackling poverty – health, schools, childcare, benefits, taxes, work and pay, pensions, services, housing and more.

Although the Scottish Government already has powers over many of these areas, pensions and benefits are outside its remit.

The inevitably growing debate around independence must not obscure the need for on-going policy development in all of the devolved areas, to tackle problems that will exist whatever decision the Scottish people take in 2014.

Lindsay Scott is Age Scotland’s Communication and Campaigns Manager.

Managing later life on restricted means is a juggling act

Age Scotland’s Communications and Campaigns Manager, Lindsay Scott, discusses the recent findings of the “Living on a Low Income in Later Life” report commissioned by the Age UK family. 

Living on a low income

A new report commissioned by the Age UK family covering the situation of older people in England, Scotland and Wales, shows that older people on low, fixed incomes are typically finding life tough but are ‘coping’.

The findings demonstrate the different forms of hardship that people in later life experience, highlighting the extent of the sheer hard work required in order to get by and just how constraining living on a low income can be.

A key conclusion is that, while dire material hardship may be less common in later life than it once was, the pressures associated with living on a low income have not gone away. Material hardship is still very evident; some of the people in the study had to economise on fulfilling basic needs, for example by, in winter, only heating part of their homes for part of the day.

The findings show how a combination of poor health and poor mobility and living in more isolated areas without accessible and affordable transport or social networks can result in some people becoming more disadvantaged than others. Where people are already on a restricted income, these factors make stretching their money further that bit harder, part of the problem being that if you are only just keeping your head above water, it is hard to deal with unexpected or additional expenses.

Making ends meet

Planning finances carefully often doesn't account for emergency purchases

Someone who has planned their future outgoings carefully may find it nigh impossible to foot the bill for house repairs, to visit a sick relative at the other end of the country or to replace a broken appliance. Even where people we spoke to had a bit of ‘rainy day’ money put aside, they were reluctant to draw on it for fear of being unable to afford a more important expense in the future. Furthermore, the reluctance of many to get into any form of debt created an extra constraint.

Another issue arose where people did not always feel in control of their financial situation. In some cases, they were dependent on having things bought for them by family and friends and this made their financial comfort reliant on the goodwill of others.

Some people had done advance budgeting on the basis of a certain amount of interest on savings and when that dropped to a tenth of what it had been, found themselves with a problem. In other cases the ways in which organisations structured payments made things difficult for them, for example where their gas or electricity accounts were allowed to fall behind, causing large arrears or sudden increases in monthly payments.

Electric fire

Fuel price rises have severely affected older people's finances

What emerged right across Britain is that older people have been shaken rigid by the enormous fuel price rises we saw in the second half of last year and in combination with hikes in the costs of basic foodstuffs, those on low, fixed incomes have had the frighteners well and truly put upon them.

Finally, it is notable that for many of those who took part in this study, their limited incomes were not the most important factor in determining their quality of life. The closeness of their relationships, the quality of their local services and how they felt about their surrounding environment could often be more important.

However, this was often because they felt that they were currently ‘coping’ by paying bills on time, keeping relatively warm and buying the basics, and felt they could be philosophical about the limits to what they could buy.

Increases over the past decade in the real value of benefits, especially the Pension Credit, have undoubtedly contributed to this. The risk is that, if the buying power of incomes in later life declines, money will become more important as coping becomes ever more difficult. The most revealing fact to emerge from this study in our opinion is that many older people who are ‘getting by’ today are seriously worried that this will not last.

If you are worried about making ends meet, phone the Age Scotland Helpline – 0845  125 9732. The service is free and confidential.