Efforts must be increased to stamp out fuel poverty by focusing more on improving people's homes, according to an academic.
Dr Brenda Boardman, who popularised the term "fuel poverty" in a 1991 book on the subject, said more has to be done after watching the trend increase in recent years. The term applies to households where at least 10% of income is spent on fuel.
Dr Boardman, of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, spoke out weeks after a report warned that the average Scottish household may fall into the category from this year.
As a conference on the subject got under way in Edinburgh, she said: "The main problem in Scotland is the growing number of fuel poor. It's a combination of rising fuel prices and inefficient homes. There's a limited amount the Government can do about prices but they can focus more on energy efficiency."
The Scottish Government pledged to ensure that by November 2016, "so far as is reasonably practicable", people are not living in fuel poverty. The SNP administration allocated a £65 million budget to reduce fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency in 2012-13.
Dr Boardman continued: "The talk about an area-based approach over 10 years to address insulation is welcome. The difficulty is who is going to pay for what?"
The conference, hosted by the Chartered Institute of Housing, aims to address that question, she said. The findings are expected to be compiled in a report. The recent Fuel Poverty Evidence Review, published by the Scottish Government, suggests the problem is growing.
"If current trends in energy costs and income continue, it is projected that fuel bills will exceed 10% of median household income by 2012, pushing the average household into fuel poverty," it stated.
Government figures show 658,000 households were in fuel poverty in 2010, equal to 28% across the country. The total fell steadily between 1996 and 2002 but rose to a new peak of 33%, or 766,000, in 2009. It fell back again in 2010 but is expected to rise to 35% when the 2011 figures are published later this year.
Elizabeth Leighton, senior policy officer at WWF Scotland, who also took part in the conference, said: "The signals could not be clearer. The Government needs to raise its game if we are to reap the rewards of warm, high-quality, affordable, low-carbon homes for everyone in Scotland."
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