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Gender-based Perspectives of Fuel Poverty in Scotland

Date: 2019


Studies in the developing world and mainland Europe (e.g. Eige, 2016; Clancy et al 2017) have shown that gender has an impact on energy awareness, needs and behaviours. The evidence is less comprehensive in the UK, where studies on gender and poverty in general are much more common. However, there is strong circumstantial evidence that women are at higher risk of experiencing circumstances known to make households more vulnerable to fuel poverty, such as lower incomes, heading single parent families, and having carer status. It is important for policy makers and project designers to understand what role gender may play so that they can respond appropriately.

Scotland has a devolved administration, which includes aspects of energy policy. The Scottish government has recently published a new Fuel Poverty Strategy and a review of evidence. Analysing the locally specific factors will ensure that objectives and targets are reflective of the actual data. However, given the differences in risk it is important that such policies adequately include a gender equality perspective.

The study examined whether there were differences between men and women in terms of a) energy use b) attitudes and awareness and c) energy behaviours. It also considered gender differences by family type, location, e.g. urban and rural areas.

Summary of activity

Semi-structured interviews were carried out with service users recruited via charities in different urban and rural locations in Scotland that work with people at risk of fuel poverty and fuel debt.

The data was then used to construct a series of 20 representative case studies, so that a comparative analysis of men and women could be made. Separate case studies were devised for six subcategories: lone parents, single older, single younger, married younger, married older, and disabled people. These were structured around the themes of appliance use, energy awareness and behaviour.

A feminist theoretical framework was used to assess Scottish energy policies with a view to making gender issues more visible.


Existing literature suggested a number of important gender differences exist. Proportionately, women spend more time at home and there are often gendered divisions of responsibilities related to domestic energy use. However, much policy is either gender neutral or gender blind and focused on units such as ‘the household’ that do not take gender into account. Many of the existing UK data sources used to estimate fuel poverty are not disaggregated by gender, and this poses problems for analysis. In addition, not all the evidence is available for Scotland.

The data indicated that there were gender dimensions to appliance use, but that an intersection with age was an important variable. For example, older women were more likely to use washing machines and kettles than men, whereas men were more likely to use TVs, and other leisure appliances. However, younger women used more appliances related to personal cleaning and beauty. Other gender-based differences identified included single parent households headed by women tending to use more energy and older women using cookers more than older men. However, there were areas where no differences were observed. For example, none of men and women in the older single group had changed suppliers or knew how to operate their heating systems and had similar cost-based worries about energy use.

Regarding energy awareness and energy behaviours, women’s responses tended to focus more on broader programmes such as renewable energy and sustainable development, whereas men were more concerned with affordability and personal actions to reduce energy use. Men had better awareness of which appliances were energy efficient.

The findings have implications for the models used to calculate energy use, which in turn underpin many fuel poverty statistics.

Women were found to be more at risk than men if they fell into one or more of the following categories:  having children, being a lone parent, and being disabled.

A feminist analysis of the key Scottish policy instruments concluded that they did not consider gender differences and that references to women in the documents were minimal. Proposals refer ‘households’, in a generic sense, without reflecting the variety of domestic situations.


  • More research needs to be undertaken on the gender impact of policies aimed at tackling fuel poverty and gender and energy issues in general.
  • Policy and practice need to take account of the constituent elements of a household in fuel poverty and other statistics such as excess winter deaths, should be dis-aggregated by gender
  • A specific women’s interest group should be established within the Scottish Government Fuel Poverty Advisory Group and Partnership Forum to ensure women’s perspectives are included.
  • Strategies aimed at behaviour change should include measures targeted at women.

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