At the heart of Age UK’s Warm Homes Campaign lies the conviction that the best way to insulate people from remorseless increases in energy costs and the health risks posed by cold homes is a major house refurbishment programme. The Green Deal was intended to drive that work – and upgrade 4m homes by 2020 – but the six month figures for the scheme are hapless, and we see no room for optimism any time soon.
As of mid-October, there are 219 Green Deal schemes in operation. True, there is a upstream pipeline of house surveys completed and Green Deal plans in preparation, but older householders seem rather underwhelmed. Whilst one in ten say their homes were not warm enough last winter and they would benefit from improved energy efficiency measures, 70% said they would not want a Green Deal. The most frequently cited reasons were aversion to debt, and seeing the ‘loan’ repayment scheme as too expensive.
The figures for the work being undertaken under the Energy Company Obligation – a range of schemes funded by imposts on all householders’ bills (part of the so-called ‘green taxes’ – look better. These deliver free energy efficiency measures to people meeting certain eligibility requirements. But even here, the work done is counted and reported as ‘outputs’, jobs delivered: what is important is that the household is left with a good outcome, a house which can be kept adequately warm at an affordable cost.
Between them, the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation were launched this year as the solution to fuel poverty and rising fuel costs. Both are proving inadequate. Age UK is not calling for their abolition – in England, they are the only schemes on the table – but there is a strong case for significant in-flight corrections with both schemes. But on top of that, we are not convinced that these are adequate responses to the work that needs to be done in large swathes of our poorly insulated housing stock, not just to help the fuel poor, but to meet our climate change and carbon emissions obligations. A new ingredient needs putting into the mix.
The ingredient we are reaching for is a home improvement Government fund raised from taxation but from this year, the Treasury will be receiving revenues from new taxes on the largest emitters of carbon pollution – new income which will ramp up to about £4bn a year before long. Some or all of this should be dedicated to funding energy efficiency improvements, since generating and delivering energy is one of the major sources of carbon emissions in the first place. It seems appropriate that this income stream should be used in this way as it is in other countries in Europe and elsewhere, facing the same challenges on energy policies. Age UK is an active participant in the Energy Bill Revolution, a strong and wide coalition of organisations calling for exactly this step change.
Age UK is campaigning for warm homes. Add your voice, and help prevent 24,000 older people dying each winter.