‘Everyone says so!’ is not the right reason to make warm efficient homes a priority. The right reason to improve our homes – the infrastructure in which we live – is that they have a huge and recognised impact upon our health and the way that we live, work and learn.
There is, however, an outbreak of consensus too. And this consensus is clear that providing warm efficient homes to all is, whether in economic, social or environmental terms, a no brainer.
“ … out of all 27 Member States, the UK ranks 26th … Only Estonia had a higher incidence of ‘energy poverty’ at 19.7%”
The Cold Man of Europe – Association for the Conservation of Energy, March 2013
“ Low-income working-age households have lost the most as a percentage of their income from tax and benefit changes introduced by the coalition”
– Institute for Fiscal Studies, January 2015
The IFS report goes on to emphasise that people at both the top and the bottom of the income spectrum have been hit by current measures. However, the UK has a specific problem with homes that perform below average in cold weather, and those least able to act on the condition of that housing have been some of the hardest hit by current austerity.
It is for these reasons that many in politics are now regarding the tackling of cold homes as an imperative. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a left leaning think tank, recommends in its Help to Heat report that;
“Energy efficiency is shown to produce greater immediate and long-term bill impacts while delivering substantial economic gains and inexpensively cutting carbon emissions”
Help to Heat – IPPR, November 2013
Moreover, in their Warmer Homes report from January 2015, Policy Exchange, a right leaning think tank, highlights:
“energy efficiency has been identified as the most cost effective way to permanently reduce fuel poverty”
Warmer Homes – Policy Exchange, January 2015
So far so similar, but is this a case of the heart ruling the head from both sides? Recent research from Cambridge Econometrics suggests;
“There is a strong rationale for treating energy efficiency in UK housing stock as an infrastructure priority”
Building the Future – Cambridge Econometrics and Verco, October 2014
They go on to highlight that a large scale programme for retrofit, such as they modelled, has the potential for over 100,000 new jobs and a return to government of £1.27 for every £1 invested, as well as energy savings for individuals.
An even greater endorsement can be found from the International Energy Agency:
“Energy efficiency is the invisible powerhouse in IEA countries and beyond, working behind the scenes to improve our energy security, lower our energy bills and move us closer to reaching our climate goals”
IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, October 2014
Practical energy savings have also been realised by the Ministry of Defence as part of a drive to save money, with the initial investment now being more than regained in annual savings:
“In terms of financial benefits … Defence is no exception … energy efficiency measures for around 120 Defence Infrastructure projects … delivered ongoing approximate annual savings of £5 million .”
Ministry of Defence, Sustainable Development Strategy 2011.
We need not re-tread ground for why energy efficiency is good for environmental reasons – the broad consensus there is clear. However, there is increasing evidence and interest from the health sector in how to improve the environment in which we live to prevent chronic illness, and improve our general health.
“[Strategic needs assessments] should include … assessing how heating and insulation needs to be improved to raise properties to an acceptable … rating.”
Draft Guidelines, National Institute for Clinical Excellence, October 2014
This quote is from a draft set of guidelines for consultation released last year by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) – the body which looks at how the NHS should best spend money to treat illnesses. A wider report looking at the levels of deaths in cold weather is expected in the spring.
This is an enormously important area of research. People need to know how to keep themselves healthy, and government should think clearly about what money needs to be spent to do the same.
So the consensus seems to be there; left wing and right wing. Health and social care professionals, environmentalists and economists, and even the Ministry of Defence are saying it makes sense to renovate leaky building stock. But what of the political parties themselves?
“ I want to go further… to bring together everything we are doing in one coherent strategy to make Britain the most energy efficient country in Europe.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, 4 February 2013
Speech to launch the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office.
“ our shared ambition is to build one of the least wasteful, most energy efficient, most climate friendly societies in the developed world.”
Energy Secretary, Edward Davey, 5 March 2014
Speech to EcoBuild Conference.
"The most sustainable way to cut people’s energy bills for the long-term is to invest in insulation and save the energy that escapes through our windows, walls and rooftops”
Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint, July 4 2014
In true TV debate fashion, let’s not limit ourselves to the mainstream parties;
Green Party Website
“We will make a major investment in energy efficiency and the renewable energy industry to create jobs, stimulate research, reduce emissions, and get people’s fuel bills down permanently.”
“The Scottish Government is doing everything it can within its limited powers to provide a wide range of energy efficiency measures to individual households and to local authorities, and that is clearly having a positive effect” Mike Weir, SNP Westminster Energy Spokesman.
Mark Reckless, UKIP MP , on twitter recently said:
“@gogirl220@EnergyBillRev I agree that energy efficiency measures are a better use of funds than many other distorting energy subsidies”
So above is my case. Everyone does – it would seem – say so. And institutions like the Ministry of Defence and our health service are already starting to act where they can to help us, and to save money. But this impact will be limited without wider policy changes.
When political parties are ready to join this consensus with a plan for real action to match the good and clear priorities that they have set in their own words, they can do so with confidence: It’s a no brainer; everyone says so!