How to ignite a change against fuel poverty

Knauf Insulation’s Steven Heath looks at Cold Homes Week

It’s really positive to see the amount of support Cold Homes Week – the Energy Bill Revolution campaign – is receiving this week, as businesses, charities and organisations make a stand against fuel poverty. The scale of the issue is so serious that we need to do all we can to urge government to stop delaying and start tackling the problem now.

FACT: Cold homes are damaging the health of our most vulnerable citizens, including children and older people, with huge financial hardship suffered by one in five households who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes. Indeed, last winter a person died every six minutes from the cold. Shocking and almost unbelievable statistics, yet it’s a reality for many.

So how can we tackle this?

Let’s be clear, if done properly this is an enormous infrastructure project that will inevitably span several parliamentary terms, as 14 million properties need vital energy upgrades. Yet we desperately need a low energy retrofit revolution – not just for these homes originally quoted by Government, but across all of the UKs 27 million properties, where cheap and cost effective savings can and need to be made.

With the size of the task recognised – there are many big questions, such as how to do it effectively and how to pay for it?

But first there needs to be political courage; a willingness to spend political capital in setting out a vision of a country that isn’t willing to accept that it tops the league tables in poor quality housing stock. In reality, this vision may not be realised within a party’s parliamentary term, yet this cannot be an excuse for delay.

Secondly, the message needs to be made loud and clear to the nation: are we happy that our elderly die in poor quality stock at a rate beyond other civilised nations? Campaigns such as The Energy Bill Revolution strive to win the case through public debate and if successful, then a coherent long-term plan can be pulled together – resulting in a multitude of social and economic benefits:

· More people will be protected against rising fuel bills – permanently rather than a one-off £50 rebate recently offered by Government

· More savings will free up hard-pressed household finances, which will be recycled into the UK economy and mean fewer people will face the tough choice between heating and eating

· The excess winter deaths figure will start to go down rather than up 29 per cent, as it did in 2012/13 compared to the previous year

· Hospital admissions will decrease and more people will be able to leave hospital sooner

· And of course it means we will finally be tackling Europe’s draughtiest housing stock in a meaningful way

From an economic point of view you will see:

· More jobs, particularly local jobs, will be created

· A significant reduction in the demand for energy from housing will mean less exposure to, or at least hedging against, the high cost of building future energy generation capacity

· And of course it means the money will be kept in the UK economy rather than exported to foreign gas producing lands

The Energy Bill Revolution has a solution on how to pay for it too; recycle all Government carbon tax revenues into improving our ageing housing stock. It is a massive infrastructure project but one that has so many more benefits to individuals, communities and businesses than similar projects, such as road building, designed to improve GDP alone. The scale of this issue is so serious that we need to do all we can to urge government to bite the bullet and be politically brave. So I for one certainly wish the Cold Homes campaign the very best of luck in helping to drive the debate into the public realm and stimulate action from the powers that be.

Steven Heath is External Affairs Director at Knauf Insulation

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