Making energy efficiency UK’s top infrastructure priority
The Government’s failure to take cold homes seriously has brought unions together behind a call for Labour to make energy efficiency a top infrastructure priority. An ambitious, jobs rich, domestic insulation programme, starting with the homes of the fuel poor, are key asks of the Energy Bill Revolution campaign, of which Friends of the Earth is a key founder. EBR’s many backers include Unite, PCS, GMB, the TUC and Unison, which has just launched a new report, Warm Homes Into the Future.
Last week, the Government released its draft fuel poverty strategy. Long awaited, it comes too little, too late, full of weak targets and caveats. The new strategy has neither the vision nor the ambition to deal with the problem. It is only the latest item in the catalogue of half-baked ideas and meaningless rhetoric that has been the Government’s attempt at energy efficiency and fuel poverty policy.
Since 2012, rates of home insulation have fallen by well over 60%, and huge numbers of jobs have been lost in the industry as a result. The Government’s flagship Green Deal programme has been a complete flop, buoyed up in recent months only by the cash incentives offered under the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund, which had to be closed suddenly when offering people a big wadge of cash to do something that will save them money, shockingly, turned out to be quite popular.
And the energy company obligation (ECO), which is the only funding available to insulate the homes of those on low incomes, has been savagely cut. Insulation rates are falling further, costing thousands of jobs.
It’s no wonder unions are getting behind this. Making energy efficiency the UK’s top infrastructure priority, and embarking on a major, publicly-funded energy efficiency programme to insulate every home in the country, would save the average household £300 on their energy bill, and bring millions out of fuel poverty.
But that’s not all. A large-scale insulation scheme is the only infrastructure programme which could create jobs in every constituency across the UK: well over 100,000 of them according to analyses. Such a scheme would boost GDP, and modelling shows that the economic benefits would outweigh those of almost any other kind of Government investment. It would also bring money straight back to the treasury – the German KfW Bank’s energy efficiency scheme is estimated to have brought in €3 to €4 in Treasury income for every €1 invested.
As well as this, energy efficiency significantly increases energy security by reducing fossil fuel imports, and will help us to hit the carbon emissions reduction targets set in the Climate Change Act, Labour’s most important environmental achievement in its last term of office.
It won’t be cheap, and a secure funding stream is absolutely vital for success. But last month’s National Policy Forum allows a future Labour government to borrow for capital expenditure. A major energy efficiency scheme would not only be a fantastic example of responsible investment bringing significant economic benefits, but proof that Labour is serious about preventing social ills – particularly those which afflict the poor – rather than paying for their effects.
Fuel poverty-related disease presents a huge cost to the NHS, and the Chief Medical Officer has said that every £1 spent on energy efficiency would bring about 40p in NHS savings. No one has even tried to quantify the economic cost of work days missed due to fuel poverty-related illnesses, or the cost to society of children failing at school because they keep getting sick and missing lessons, or have nowhere warm to do their homework.
A major insulation programme would do, in spades, everything Infrastructure UK says major investment is meant to, and which the country needs so badly: strengthen the economy, create jobs, and increase living standards. So it was heartening to see Labour Peers officially backing Lord Whitty’s energy efficiency amendments to the Infrastructure Bill just before Recess. It was just a shame, and quite puzzling, that energy efficiency didn’t appear in the bill in the first place. It isn’t big and shiny, and doesn’t make opportunities for minister photo-calls in hard hats and hi-viz. But what better candidate for investment than the very fabric of our lives, the homes we live in?
Labour’s energy efficiency Green Paper is due to be released very soon.The party must be wary of trying to cash in on their opponents’ weakness on the issue by coming out with something only slightly better. Unions, as well as fuel poverty, business, and environmental groups like ourselves at Friends of the Earth are increasingly making clear they will be happy with nothing less than an ambitious programme to insulate all homes occupied by those on low incomes to a good standard by 2025, and a persuasive loan offer for those able to pay for it themselves. Our expectations are high, and I very much hope we won’t be disappointed.