Lewis survey highlights scale of “rural decline”

​A household survey conducted by Horshader Community Development Trust has identified the “appalling circumstances” that many people are enduring, particularly through fuel poverty.
The Trust oversees revenue from a community-owned turbineThe Trust oversees revenue from a community-owned turbine
The Trust oversees revenue from a community-owned turbine

The Trust, which runs a community wind turbine on the west side of Lewis, surveyed 74 households in South Shawbost, Dalbeag and Dalmore. They were asked to share anonymous data on issues including health, diet, fuel poverty, heating and home insulation.

With a 72 per cent response rate, says the Trust, “we are confident that our results are typical of much of the Westside, if not most rural parts of the island”.

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More than half of households reported at least one person living with a disability or other long-term illness while half are living in fuel poverty – spending at least ten per cent of their household income heating their home, or in Extreme Fuel Poverty, spending 20 per cent on heating.

While oil-fired boilers are the commonest heating source (65 per cent), solid fuel fires are used in about one in three homes. Less carbon-intensive heat pumps are used in 15 per cent of homes.

The survey found: “The circumstances of those reporting as being in fuel poverty is alarming. Almost 70 per cent of retirees report a degree of fuel poverty. One third of young people in education belong to households in fuel poverty. At least three in ten working adults belong to households in fuel poverty.”

There was also some “good news”. Over 90 per cent of households eat meals prepared with fresh produce most days, and four out of five eat fresh fruit or vegetable most days.

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Carole Miller, Chair of HCDT said: “Sadly, we know the figures for fuel poverty probably under-report the scale of the problem, as people are often averse to using the word ‘poverty’ to describe their circumstances. But these figures do show the appalling circumstances many people are struggling through.

“The long-term poor health of many people in our community is also a worry. There’s a big challenge in staffing social care. Third sector organisations, like Horshader, are well aware of the community-wide problems this brings, but we’re limited in what we can do to help.”

Gordon Matheson, development officer at the Horshader Trust, said: “We gathered this data to help provide background and context to funding applications. In a way, we already knew this, but seeing it in black and white really brings home the scale of the challenges of rural decline in the islands.

“The figures for health and fuel poverty, which go hand in hand, are particularly dismaying. Our small community-owned wind turbine is barely making a dent in addressing the fuel inequality experienced in the area. We’re trying to get more community-based health and wellbeing projects off the ground, but it’s a challenge to find the backing for these clearly necessary initiatives.”

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They Trust say that they have sent “a full picture of our results and analysis to our local councillors, MSP and MP”.

The Trust has been function since 2005 and was the first in the Western Isles to produce revenue from a community-owned turbine.