Call to end fuel poverty…again

As the government’s mechanism to retrofit fuel poor homes continues to slow, UNISON and seven more of the UK’s largest trade unions are calling on the Labour Party to end fuel poverty with its own initiative. Hot on their heels the End Fuel Poverty Coalition – also including Unison – is set to launch a manifesto of policy asks on 9 September.

The trade unions have written to Labour leader Ed Miliband calling for measures including:

  • A strategy to bring all UK homes up to an energy performance certificate (EPC) of B and C
  • Grants for energy efficient measures, capped at £10,000, to bring all 6m low incomes homes to band C by 2025, and at least 2m homes to band C by 2020
  • A zero interest rate for energy efficiency loans for those able to pay
  • A street by street delivery programme, with local authorities taking a leading role.

Warmer homes are already a popular campaigning issue. We have the Energy Bill Revolution campaign for warmer homes, Macmillan Cancer Support’s Freeze Out Fuel Poverty, National Energy Action’s Warm Homes Campaign, Turn2us’ Mind the Gap, and more. Yet the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) mechanism, which finances the retrofit of fuel poor homes, has been slowing significantly following a change aimed at delivering a headline-grabbing £50 energy saving on the annual energy bill for all. Last month the number of measures installed under ECO stood at just over 30,000, the lowest level since April of last year.

The Decent Homes target set by government at the turn of the millennium resulted in a decade-long programme of bathroom, kitchen and boiler retrofits. According to the bald statistics of the National Audit Office, by 2010 it had improved almost 1.5m affordable homes at a cost of some £22bn. But those simplistic numbers tell little of the full story. It delivered jobs, raised skills levels in domestic refurbishment, was calculated by BRE to have saved the NHS nearly £400m over the course of a decade and undoubtedly improved living conditions for residents.

The benefits of large-scale retrofitting are broad-ranging and many of the potential impacts in health are only now being evaluated. It promises not only to lower household fuel bills for those least able to pay, but to help the UK reach its environmental objectives, improve the health of residents living in damp draughty homes, develop retrofit expertise and innovation and generate growth. And in the case of the trade unions’ suggested measures, it could create more than 100,000 skilled jobs, with opportunities for apprenticeships and localised skills development.

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