Monday, 22 March 2010

Ending Fuel Poverty

In one of my more recent posts, I highlighted one of the major items of expenditure in Hackney Green Party's budget proposals this year - a scheme designed to kickstart the provision of free insulation for all residents of the borough, prioritising the most vulnerable households.

A similar scheme has already been pioneered by Kirklees Green Party, who secured over £20 million for it, and it has transformed the energy efficiency situation of housing in their area.

Now, I'm aware that insulation isn't the sexiest political issue. But it should be.

It should be because nearly five million households in England cannot afford to heat and power their own homes. They need to spend more than 10% of their income on energy, and so are living in fuel poverty. The annual average household energy bill is now over £1,200 - more than double the average bill just five years ago.

And it should be because, in 2008/2009, there were more than 36,000 excess winter deaths, with many more people becoming seriously ill or going into heavy debt due to fuel poverty.


Yes, of course, excess deaths aren't just cold related, and not everyone died as a result of poor heating in their homes - but even if we are ludicrously conservative and attribute just 10% of those deaths to insufficient fuel and heating (and I suspect its actually a lot more), we are talking about thousands of preventable deaths. And that was for 2008/9. The winter we've just had was colder.

Of course, the Labour government have been on the case for a decade now, ever since they passed a Parliamentary Bill on the topic of fuel poverty in 2000. I'm sure its fixed.

Oh. Turns out, there are now nearly three times more households in fuel poverty than in 2001, when the government launched its UK Fuel Poverty Strategy. The government has already acknowledged it will miss its 2010 legal target on fuel poverty, and is on course to miss the 2016 target unless there is a radical shift in strategy. As End Fuel poverty have said of the government, "it is reluctant to set a target energy efficiency standard for private sector homes; take regulatory action to drive up standards...and make sure all the necessary funding is provided."

Frankly, this isn't rocket science. We need to stop faffing about at the edges of this problem, stop relying on the market to fix itself, and introduce minimum standards in the private sector as a matter of urgency. As Friends of the Earth point out in a recent briefing: "Strong minimum standards, which are toughened over time, should make it illegal to rent out a property below a certain energy efficiency rating...this should start immediately with properties in Energy Performance Certificate Bands F and G...there is simply no moral, practical or financial argument for allowing a landlord to continue to make money from letting a property which is in bands F or G - a standard of energy efficiency so poor that it is classified as a health hazard - when that property could be improved to Band E for less than a thousand pounds."

Absolutely right. We need the 'stick' of minimum energy standards, and the 'carrot' of easily understood and accessible free insulation. We need it because bringing the homes of the fuel poor up to the energy efficiency standards of homes built today would reduce their fuel bills by an average of 52 per cent, and cut their carbon emissions by 59 per cent. And we need it because people are dying.

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