by David Hilferty, CAS Director of Impact.
This article was first published in the Herald on 14 October 2023.
One of the best assets CAS has is our evidence base. The fact that we have 59 CABs working in communities across Scotland, plus our online presence, gives us direct insight into the lived experience of people in every corner of the country on so many different issues. This allows us to identify key trends as they happen, and we can use these not just to adjust our own service offer but to highlight issues and influence policymakers.
I can give you a good example of what I mean. We’ve just published our monthly data report for the month of August, and there’s one particular statistic that is startling, and should be a big concern for anyone who is committed – as we are – to making sure Scotland meets its Net Zero targets.
We have a page on our website that outlines the range of schemes that are available to help people to insulate their homes, reduce their emissions and cut their energy use. The page is well signposted and generally gets a decent number of views.
But our August report has found that the numbers of views of this page has plummeted by 80% in a year. In August 2022 the page had 3,751 views. In August 2023 it had just 698.
Based on other research we’ve done and on our inter-actions with clients, we believe the reason for this is clear. People are prioritising their essential day-to-day bills during the cost of living crisis rather than thinking about Net Zero. Yes it’s true that people can make savings by reducing their energy use, but those savings are long-term, while today’s bills are on the kitchen table right now. And many of the home insulation schemes involve taking out loans now in order to get the retro-fitting work done, which is not something anyone wants to do at the moment.
So the cost of living crisis is not just causing dramatic increases in poverty, but also undermining efforts to reach Net Zero.
And who can blame people for prioritising their current financial situation over the thought of theoretical savings in the future? We write here every other week about how soaring energy bills, growing food prices and rising housing payments have all come together to create a perfect storm for household budgets.
All across our network advisers are seeing people having to make impossible choices on spending, and in some cases turning to debt to deal with essential bills.
With that in mind, it’s understandable that we’ve seen a big drop in people checking our webpage on energy efficiency schemes. When your bills are up, and your income is staying the same, you don’t think about taking out additional loans to insulate your home.
Policymakers need to understand that this cost of living crisis will leave a legacy. Even if bills and inflation return to something more manageable, many will have had their financial resilience worn down and, in some cases, wiped out by this crisis. Expecting them to take on the up-front costs associated with insulating their homes will not be realistic.
So governments need to factor this in to their plans for the acceleration to Net Zero. People will need additional support to engage with it. And those who start with the least should get the most of that support.