MSPs are being warned to put political differences aside to unite to support measures that will help end fuel poverty as new research found that more than two in three social workers said that the people they support are living in cold damp homes.

In a letter due to be sent to all MSPs today, politicians will be asked to ensure the next First Minister does not abandon government policies which could help end the cold damp homes crisis.

New figures from research among Social Workers Union members has found that some 40.32% of members surveyed in Scotland had seen children living in conditions with excessive levels of mould.

Ministers have come under fire for failing to fulfil pledges to eradicate fuel poverty after it hit a 12-year high with over one in three now affected despite government moves to support the most vulnerable in the cost of living crisis.

Scottish Government modelling under the Ofgem energy price cap, seen by The Herald, estimates that from January to March, 2024 there will be around 840,000 households in Scotland suffering from fuel poverty. That's around 34% of households.

It comes as ministers set the seal on the cancellation of the £30 million Fuel Insecurity Fund, which was last year described by first minister Humza Yousaf MSP as a “vital lifeline” for thousands of struggling households.

It came after a previous pledge was made to ensure that by November 2016, "so far as is reasonably practicable, people are not living in fuel poverty in Scotland".

The Scottish Government set a target that in the year 2040, no more than 5% of households would be in fuel poverty.

The new letter coordinated by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and Energy Action Scotland, warns that among the most vulnerable, the crisis is even worse.

New figures from research among Social Workers Union members found that 69% of Scottish social workers have seen the people they support living in cold damp homes.

The study conducted between January 25, and February 12 found that 43.55% had seen vulnerable people living in conditions with excessive levels of mould.

And 77.42% of social workers surveyed found the people they supported had turned off their heating to save money.

The energy regulator Ofgem, which sets the bills price cap said that, as of 1 April, an average household paying by direct debit for dual fuel (gas and electricity) would pay £1,690 a year, a drop of £238 from the previous cap.

But while energy costs may have reduced during 2024, they remain 62% higher than in 2021 when the cap was at £1042.

The letter states that the health complications of mould are potentially serious: “Everyone remembers the tragic case of Awaab Ishak, but people young and old, with disabilities or with a range of health conditions are at risk.”

The Herald: Awaab Ishak

Two-year-old Awaab Ishak died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by "extensive" mould in a one-bedroom flat where he lived with his parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Fuel poverty relates to households that must spend a high proportion of their household income to keep their home at a reasonable temperature. It is affected by three key factors - a household’s income, their fuel costs, and their energy consumption, which in turn is affected by the energy efficiency of the home.

In Scotland, it means that after housing costs, the total fuel costs needed to maintain a satisfactory heating regime are more than 10% of the household’s total taxable income.

The campaigners have demanded that MSPs from across all parties to unite in support of a Heat in Buildings Bill which is "ambitious in its vision for improving the energy efficiency and insulation of the nation’s homes and contains a clear fuel poverty duty enshrined in the legislation".

They hope that the current Housing Bill will enhance tenants’ rights and provide financial protections for tenants during the ongoing cost of living crisis.

They want addtional Government support in future budgets and legislation to help households cope with the cost of living crisis.

And they want the reintroduction of the Fuel Insecurity Fund to help at least those most at risk of harm and struggling in energy debt.

They say a new Pension Age Winter Heating Payment should be "fundamentally better targeted than the Winter Fuel Payment that it replaces".

And they want a "strengthened framework of support for the renewables and offshore wind sectors and the fastest possible 'just transition' for the oil and gas sector, as described in the Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.

The letter has been sparked by concerns that there could be a question mark over some of the important parts of the Bute House Agreement that would have helped ease the energy crisis leading to elements being axed or watered down by an incoming First Minister in a bid to break from the past.

The Herald:

It states: "We urge you to put politics aside and support the Scottish Government to take the actions needed to help those in fuel poverty and to ensure all households can access affordable energy in the future.

"A failure to do so will see Scottish households condemned to spend more winters in cold damp mouldy homes. The impacts of this will be felt not just in the suffering of families and individuals, but also on the NHS and the collective mental health of communities."

Warm This Winter, the campaign coalition supported by leading anti-poverty and environmental organisations found toward the end of last year that some two in three (61%) of Scots are having to cut down on essential spending to afford their energy bills - with campaigners saying in some cases even this won’t be enough to avoid living in cold damp homes.

Warm This Winter spokesman Fiona Waters said: “Humza Yousaf’s resignation shows yet again how ordinary people are being failed by politicians who are so caught up in battling for power that they have neglected the needs of the public.

“What voters really care about is the cost of living crisis driven by high energy bills that is still putting unbearable pressure on millions of households around the country.

“We need governments in each nation who will prioritise fixing our broken energy system by getting us off expensive oil and gas and onto cheap, homegrown renewables and by properly insulating our leaky housing stock to bring down bills for good.

“Politicians should not lose sight of that or they will pay at the ballot box.”

The Existing Homes Alliance has warned that legally binding targets on fuel poverty and net zero will be missed without new, fit-for-purpose legislation on heat in buildings.

It is anticipated that the Heat in Buildings Bill, if passed, would prohibit the use of polluting heating from 2045 and require homeowners to meet a minimum energy efficiency standard by the end of 2033. It would also require private landlords to meet a minimum energy efficiency standard by the end of 2028.

With approximately 20% of Scotland’s annual carbon emissions coming from heating properties, EHA says homeowners, landlords and the supply chain in the housing sector must be incentivised and supported if Scotland is to have any hope of reaching net zero by the 2045 deadline.

Simon Francis, co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, added: “The First Minister's homemade political crisis risks causing harm to the most vulnerable in society. Any further delays to boosting energy efficiency plans, protecting tenants rights and organising financial support for the most vulnerable will hit households hard.

“We need MSPs to come together and unite on a programme that will tackle the long term causes of Scotland’s cold home crisis and provide emergency support to those most at risk next winter.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to tackling fuel poverty and is supporting vulnerable households through a range of actions.

“This includes the Winter Heating Payment which, as of 31 March, has supported almost 418,000 low-income households with a total investment of £23 million in 2023/24. Over 30,000 Child Winter Heating Payments were made last winter totalling £7.2 million. This helped to mitigate additional heating costs for households of disabled children and young people during winter.

“The forthcoming Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan will set out measures to support Scotland’s oil and gas workforce as part of the transition to net zero.”