Why don’t we just…
insulate homes?

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Earlier this month a damning indictment on the government’s failure on fuel poverty was published. You can be forgiven for not noticing it. There wasn’t a press release and there was no media coverage.

It was published by the government’s Committee on Fuel Poverty. It said out of 292,000 fuel-poor band F and G homes (the least insulated), 120,000 will fail to achieve the target of band E by 2020. Band E isn’t a good level of insulation – it just isn’t dreadful. The committee also said without additional funding the 2025 and 2030 targets for higher levels of insulation will be missed.

There are 2.5 million homes across England in fuel poverty. The North West has the highest proportion of fuel poor homes of any region, at 12.1 per cent. The sad reality is that this number will increase substantially if the coronavirus pandemic extends into the autumn and winter. Kids in poorly insulated and cold homes already struggle with homework, and if Covid-19 spikes occur and they are forced to learn from home they will fall further behind. This is how the theory of social mobility falls apart.

Insulation is necessary for climate change reasons as well as fuel poverty. We need to bring all the UK’s housing stock up to band C level or higher by 2030 if we have a hope of delivering on the speed and scale of carbon emissions reductions needed. In all, more than 15 million homes need improving over the next 10 years. In York, where I live, this is 5,547 homes per year. In Liverpool it is 13,027 homes.

As well as insulation, we need to start replacing the gas heating in the UK’s homes with eco-heating options such as heat pumps.

Insulation isn’t rocket science. Yet the UK still has a notoriously old and leaky housing stock. But it does cost money and successive governments have failed to invest in it, particularly over recent years. Perhaps that’s about to change? Or perhaps it isn’t.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, announced £2 billion for home insulation in his Plan for Jobs announcement on 8 July. Included in this was additional support for low income homes. It would be churlish not to acknowledge this as a step in the right direction, especially since it will also create 140,000 much needed jobs. But it is also important
to recognise that this will only upgrade 650,000 homes in total, less than half the number we should be upgrading each year.

Around £5.4 billion a year is needed for insulation and eco-heating. That’s roughly the same as the government has said it will spend on new climate-wrecking roads. The money for the housing transformation that is needed exists – it’s just been squandered on the wrong things.

Following on from Sunak’s announcement eyes now turn to the Spending Review in the autumn. This is where the government will set out its longer-term spending plans. Will multi-year investment in insulation and low carbon heating be the top infrastructure priority, as it should be?

According to the Financial Times, Dominic Cummings is actively opposing money being spent on insulation. Apparently, he finds it boring and anyway isn’t convinced about the UK’s climate reduction goals. I guess he doesn’t live in a cold home and feels safe from the extreme weather that devastates particularly poorer communities across the world.

Insulation might be boring, but it is necessary. That’s why Friends of the Earth is working with councils to get the resources and powers needed to enable local delivery of insulation, as well as pushing for a well-funded 10-year national insulation programme alongside stronger regulations on landlords.

As the Committee on Fuel Poverty says in its report, living in cold homes negatively affects physical and mental health and thereby also the NHS Perhaps Sunak gets this and will ignore Cummings. Let’s hope so.

Mike Childs is head of science at Friends of the Earth (friendsoftheearth.uk)

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