Value of winter fuel payments to plummet by 2021, Labour warns

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Payments to help pensioners heat their homes are set to "plummet" in value in the next five years, Scottish Labour's deputy leader has claimed.

The standard winter fuel payment has remained at £200 since 2007, meaning inflation has not been taken into account.

Labour said the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast for CPI inflation indicates the winter fuel allowance will fall in value by 10% by 2021.

Recent figures show pensioners account for 43% of Scotland's 750,000 fuel-poor homes - households which spend more than 10% of income on fuel bills.

In November, research from internet firm uSwitch found energy bills are set to rise following Brexit and Labour has called for more action to tackle fuel poverty.

The Scottish Government missed a target, set by a former Labour-led administration, to eradicate fuel poverty by last month.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley said: "These figures show the value of winter fuel payments is set to plummet in the next five years.

"The SNP needs to have a plan in place to adequately tackle fuel poverty at the source.

"It's disgraceful that we still see hundreds of thousands of people living in cold and damp housing, and having to choose between heating or eating."

He added: "Labour wants to see a Warm Homes Act to drive up standards and regulations, along with a measurable plan of action that will show year-on-year targets for eradicating fuel poverty in Scotland.

"With bills set to rise and the value of the winter fuel payment falling, the SNP government must bring forward a clear plan and timeframe for when we end fuel poverty in Scotland for good."

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said the Scottish Government will have pledged £1 billion by 2021 to help people heat their homes affordably and is committed to introducing a Warm Homes Bill.

He added: "We remain determined to eradicate fuel poverty and will keep our manifesto commitment to bring forward a new fuel poverty strategy including a new fuel poverty target in 2017.

"Despite our best efforts, above-inflation energy price increases that are beyond our control have greatly impacted on Scottish households - fuel poverty in 2015 would have been 8.4% if energy costs had risen in line with inflation between 2002 and 2015.

"We also remain concerned at the UK Government's welfare cuts and benefits sanctions that have pushed more families into crisis, affecting households' abilities to meet their fuel bills."

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "The UK Government is committed to tackling fuel poverty and ensuring people have dignity and security in their retirement. Over one million people in Scotland have benefited from nearly £200 million of winter fuel payments in the last year alone.

"We are devolving significant new welfare powers, including Winter Fuel Payments, to the Scottish Government, and we will continue to work together to ensure that devolution works for the people of Scotland and the UK."