Making homes safer, as well as more energy efficient, will transform lives
A new report by Citizens Advice suggests improving the standards of the country’s 13 million energy inefficient homes could deliver close to £40 billion in cumulative benefits by the end of the decade.
Our Deputy Director for Homes, Holly Holder, argues that combining energy efficiency into a broader programme of home improvement will deliver even more benefits.
The case for a comprehensive nationwide programme to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s poorest quality homes grows stronger by the day.
Citizens Advice are the latest organisation to state the case in their new report, Home advantage: Unlocking the benefits of energy efficiency.
As the report makes clear, the financial case for a nationwide retrofit scheme is strong.
Upgrading 13 million homes which currently have an Energy Performance Certificate below C, the standard measure of how energy efficient a building is ranking from A (very efficient) to G (inefficient), it is claimed would deliver close to £40 billion in benefits to Britain by 2030 and further benefits of £70-£100 billion in the following decade.
For individuals, it would save consumers £24 billion on energy bills by 2030, helping households trapped in fuel poverty.
The environmental case for such a move is even stronger.
According to the Citizens Advice report, insulating 13 million energy-inefficient homes would reduce CO2 emissions by 33 million tonnes across Great Britain by 2030, due to reduced electricity and gas usage. This would cut 2030 emissions by 5% and reduce air pollution.
But most importantly, improving the energy efficiency on a mass scale makes sense on a humane level. Up to 6,000 excess winter deaths could be avoided annually.
Making homes warmer and more energy efficient would reduce levels of cold-related illnesses such as asthma, strokes, heart disease and mental health conditions, and make them less severe. This also has a substantial economic impact as cutting the cost of treating these illnesses would save the NHS £2 billion by 2030 and a further £600 million every year between 2030 and 2040.
Most importantly, improving the energy efficiency on a mass scale makes sense on a humane level.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we certainly support policies which could improve the lives of millions who currently suffer from poor health caused by cold, damp homes, whose mental health is deteriorating in poor quality housing and who have to pay significant energy costs, often beyond their own means, for warmth that rapidly escapes their leaky, draughty homes.
This is particularly an issue for people aged 60 and above who are the principal occupants of more than 40% of the 15 million homes with an energy rating of D or below, many of whom cannot afford to pay for major energy efficiency measures as occupants of the most energy inefficient homes are overwhelmingly on low incomes.
But we also believe that a mass energy efficiency programme could deliver even more benefits if it also focussed on the broader definition of safety in people’s homes. Almost 4 million homes in England are a serious threat to their occupants’ health and safety because of trip hazards, overcrowding, lacking in adequate facilities as well as those that are cold and damp.
Half of these homes are lived in by people over the age of 55. Treatment for falls and resultant injuries in unsafe homes costs the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds every year. Unsafe homes, also have a devastating impact on a humane level.
Tackling both energy efficiency and safety in the same programme would deliver even greater benefits.
In the next parliament, this country needs a government which will deliver an ambitious home improvement strategy to fix our poor housing stock with priority given to the most vulnerable such as older and younger residents and those living fuel poverty, on low incomes or with certain health conditions.
Previous national programmes to improve homes energy efficiency have failed to deliver on their potential and promise. The next such scheme cannot afford to fail; for the sake of the health of our most vulnerable; for the economic strength of the country; if we are to meet the challenge of net zero.
We believe the key to overcoming past failures is ensuring that the support and advice that people need to have the necessary improvements their homes need is delivered by an authority they can trust. That is why we are advocating our local one-stop shop of Good Home Hubs which would provide people with the help they needed in partnership with trusted public bodies such as local authorities.
The financial, environmental and humane case for raising energy efficiency and safety within the home has been made on paper. We urgently need to start delivering those benefits for all in real life