At the heart of Age Scotland’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. Our Policy Officer, Greg McCracken reports:
As of mid-October, there are 219 Green Deal schemes in operation. True, there is an upstream pipeline of house surveys completed and some 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 to participate in the Green Deal initiative. 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 do look better. These are a range of schemes funded by imposts on all householders’ bills – part of the so-called ‘green taxes’ – which deliver free energy efficiency measures to people meeting certain eligibility requirements. Even here, however, the work done is counted and reported as ‘outputs’ – in other words, jobs which have been delivered and measures installed. What is really important – in contrast – 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 a solution to fuel poverty and rising fuel costs. Both are proving inadequate. Age Scotland is not calling for their abolition as they represent a major element of support from the Westminster Government in addressing energy efficiency and fuel poverty. Fortunately, the Scottish Government has been far more proactive by ensuring they were ready in anticipation of the arrival of these schemes to enable Scottish householders to take advantage of the support available through the schemes. It is clear that the Green Deal and ECO have not led to the transformative change wished for – or certainly which would reflect the time and resources invested in their development. This is why we feel there is a strong case for significant corrections with both schemes.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the Green Deal and ECO are, in themselves, an inadequate responses to the work that needs to be done in tackling our extremely poorly insulated housing stock. Not addressing this risks pushing householders into decisions which are not necessarily in their best interests, namely ensuring that our homes are as well insulated as possible as the first priority. Failing to do that will make it that much harder to bring about the truly transformative change required across the country if we are to make any meaningful impact on our climate change targets.
What is the benefit of supporting householders to install measures that may well generate heat more effectively into a home in which that warm air simply leaks out through gaps, crevices, lofts and walls? It is the design equivalent of putting square pegs into round holes. You wouldn’t leave the back door open while having the heating on full in the winter, but that’s what we might encourage people to do by not first encouraging them to invest in comprehensive insulation measures to the home.
This approach would not just help the fuel poor – it would help all of us who could be using less energy and would also go a significant way towards our climate change and carbon emissions obligations.
That is why we think that a new ingredient should be added to the mix, namely a Government-backed home improvement fund raised from taxation. From this year, the Treasury will receive revenues from new taxes on the largest emitters of carbon pollution – new income which will ramp up to about £4bn a year before long. Given that the generation and delivery of energy is one of the major sources of carbon emissions in the first place, we believe some or all of this should be dedicated to funding energy efficiency improvements in our homes.
Such an approach would bring us into line with other countries in Europe and elsewhere, facing the same challenges on energy policies. For these reasons, Age Scotland is an active participant in the Energy Bill Revolution, a strong and wide coalition of organisations calling for exactly this step change. We urge you to support it.
Age Scotland with Age UK is campaigning for warm homes. Add your voice, and help prevent 24,000 older people dying each winter.