Councillors want action now over fuel poverty
Shetland councillors have demanded radical action to help the growing number of islanders suffering fuel poverty despite government schemes to tackle the problem.
The local authority is likely to turn to Shetland Charitable Trust for funds despite being told last year that it had none to spare.
The council is also set to look at how it can improve its own stock of houses which has been missed out in recent schemes to improve heating and insulation.
Social services chairman Cecil Smith and councillor Allison Duncan led a move at today’s meeting of the executive committee for real progress to be made in tackling the fuel poverty problem, which is getting worse due to spiralling fuel costs and falling household income.
The problem is being exacerbated by the new policy of keeping more old people in their houses by providing care at home rather than in residential care centres.
Mr Smith said it was not right for the council to stand by and remark that it had not been a bad winter, then for a bad one to come along, forcing people to wrap up in blankets. “We have to do something for the people of Shetland,” he said. “We have a duty to do so.”
A full report on how to ramp up action is to be tabled to the new council after May.
Councillors are also annoyed that the effects of wind chill in making houses cold are still not being taken seriously by governments when calculating the need for fuel assistance. Mr Smith said the Scottish government did not understand it, despite attempts to put Shetland’s case across to infrastructure and capital investment minister Alex Neil.
Education and families chairwoman Betty Fullerton voiced serious concerns about fuel poverty among older people, some of whom she said were now “really suffering”, living in drafty old houses which cost more to heat. “We really are coming into, I think, a very serious situation,” she said.
If there were no funds available from the council then it should take them from a budget which is of lower priority, she said. She hoped more could be done in time for next winter.
Councillor Caroline Miller said radical improvements were needed if there was to be any chance of meeting the target to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016. “We’re not going to make it at this rate,” she said.
Other councillors said many old Shetland folk were too proud or too embarrassed to complain or take up their entitlement to fuel poverty benefits. Mr Duncan said the inclusion of the word “poverty” did not help.
Councillor Gary Robinson warned that all efforts must be made to ensure support that is available from national schemes is taken up first before the council or the charitable trust starts “throwing money up the lum”.
Many of the hundreds of council house tenants around Shetland are living in homes which are not up to today’s standards. Development chairman Alastair Cooper raised their plight during the meeting and complained that the council had no money to do anything about it.
The executive committee agreed that the problem should also be looked at in the forthcoming report.