While the British government states energy efficiency remains a priority, cuts to important policy measures show the stark reality. Damian Carrington writes an excellent article in The Guardian about recent research by the Association for the Conservation of Energy showing that the number of UK households being helped by government to improve their energy use fell 75% since 2012.
Household efficiency installations plummet 80% after cuts – report
Massive cuts to programmes aimed at making homes warmer and cheaper to heat have led to a 75% fall in the number of households helped by government to become more efficient since 2012, according to new research.
Improving the UK’s leaky homes, such as with loft and wall insulation and more efficient boilers, is widely acknowledged as the cheapest and fastest way to cut energy bills and also reduce the carbon emissions that drive climate change.
The number of efficiency measures installed through government-backed schemes has fallen by 80% since 2012, according to research by the Association for the Conservation of Energy, from 1.74m a year to 340,000 now. There was a sharp fall in 2013-14, as previous schemes were replaced by the now abandoned Green Deal and the energy companies obligation (ECO).
Another marked drop occurred in 2015-16, due to cuts to ECO put in place by David Cameron after the “cut the green crap” row in 2013. The government’s own adviser on fuel poverty told the Guardian at the time that the cuts were “unforgivable” and “perverse”.
“These research findings are truly shocking,” said Jenny Holland, at the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE). “The UK has some of the worst housing stock in Europe, with levels of fuel poverty unheard of in much colder countries like Sweden. But Treasury help to upgrade our freezing homes has been slashed to the bone.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “This government is serious about making vulnerable people’s homes warmer and keeping energy bills low. That is why we are increasing support for those who need it most – the fuel-poor and vulnerable – whilst reducing the impact on people’s energy bills by cutting support for those able to pay.”
Energy efficiency measures: number of households assisted since April 2010
According to an analysis by researchers at University College London for the BBC’s Panorama programme, to be broadcast on Monday, cold homes are responsible for thousands of deaths.
Dr Jessica Allen and colleagues at University College London’s Institute of Health Equity believe that more than 9,000 deaths in 2014-15 were specifically due to living in a cold home, although the calculations are not peer reviewed. There were 43,900 excess winter deaths overall in England and Wales in 2014-15, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
Allen told the BBC the figure was the highest for 15 years: “People dying from cold homes are a result of high fuel prices, low incomes and poor insulation. It’s entirely preventable. If houses were properly warm, properly heated, properly insulated, we wouldn’t see anything like these numbers of deaths.”
Ed Matthew, the director of the Energy Bill Revolution alliance of 200 groups and companies, which is also backed by 188 MPs, said: “The decision to decimate energy efficiency support has cost lives … George Osborne has chosen to invest not one penny of the £120bn infrastructure fund in retrofitting the crumbling UK building stock.”
In 2000, the government passed a legally binding rule to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, but this has been missed by a wide margin. There are still 5 million people officially living in unacceptably cold homes and the real number may be much higher, as the government changed the way it measured fuel poverty in 2013. Based on the original definition, analysis for Panorama indicates that 13 million people would now be classified as in fuel poverty.
Holland said a government pledge to make all fuel-poor homes energy efficient by 2030 will, without new funding, take 94 years to meet.
The government argues that, while the funding for energy efficiency has fallen, its new programmes will be better focused on the poorest homes. It also noted that it spends £2bn a year on the winter fuel payment, which benefited 12 million people over 63 last year, and £10.6m on cold weather payments to people receiving social security benefits.
A groundbreaking trial in Sunderland in 2014 showed that enabling family doctors to prescribe loft insulation and double glazing for patients living in cold, damp homes can transform lives and reduce the cost of cold weather to the NHS.