One solution to the cost-of-living crisis can be found in our own homes
As the price energy guarantee comes into effect this month, many households across England will find meeting the costs of heating their homes a distressing ordeal.
Our Innovation and Change Manager, Ploy Suthimai, says the solution to the problem has to be more long-term than a finite financial intervention to limit prices.
Unprecedented gas and electricity prices are causing significant concerns for many people across Europe and beyond and causing governments to take significant interventions to safeguard their citizens from skyrocketing bills. Even with that state intervention, this winter is likely to prove very challenging for many people, particularly those on low incomes living in poor-quality housing.
Our country is particularly ill-equipped to cope with this enormous challenge due to the poor quality of much of our housing, which is among the least energy inefficient in Western Europe. A significant part of the huge cost that people will be paying for in their energy bills this winter will be money wasted as heat simply flows out of poorly insulated roofs, walls and windows.
Poor-quality housing puts people’s lives at risk. Everyone, no matter age, background or ability, should have the right to live in a safe and secure home that is easy to warm and cool and is affordable to maintain. Around 4.6 million homes overheat every year in England alone, while on average, almost 10,000 deaths a year can be attributed to the avoidable circumstances of living in a cold home. There is real concern that this winter, that shocking number could rise even higher.
There are a number of schemes designed to help people improve the quality of their homes, providing government assistance towards the cost of insulation, new boilers and home upgrades. But often these schemes do not help those most in need. More than four out of five of households with below-average incomes living in the least efficient homes are deemed ineligible for nationally available government support, according to estimates by climate think tank E3G. What we need is ambitious, national and universal support that the scale of the current crisis requires. What is needed is a national retrofit programme that is up-and-running quickly, easily accessible and widely promoted
At Ageing Better, we believe that more needs to be done to enable people to make changes to their homes that they want and need. One of our strategic ambitions is to help people on low-to-middle incomes improve the condition of their homes to support them to live independently in their chosen home for longer. We believe that more needs to be done to enable people to make changes to their homes that they want and need. One of our strategic ambitions is to help people on low-to-middle incomes improve the condition of their homes to support them to live independently in their chosen home for longer.
Upgrading a home can be a complex business that requires specialist knowledge, comprehensive assessment and well-designed solutions. Our Good Home Inquiry has highlighted the fact that many homeowners are keen to make improvements to their home, but simply don’t know where to turn to or who to trust for support and advice on how to do it.
One of the potential solutions identified by the Inquiry was the development of a network of ‘Good Home Agencies’, building on the positives of existing home improvement agencies – delivered locally but supported as part of a national framework. To understand how this might work in practice, we're working with our strategic partners in Lincolnshire to design and test a user-centred approach to support people to access information and advice on services such as finance, home repairs, adaptations and energy retrofit.
We will also be developing a ‘Learning Network’ to support places and local organisations that are currently exploring different ways of improving poor-quality homes to come together to inform each other’s work. A Good Home Agency could be a crucial mechanism by which individuals are supported to improve the thermal efficiency of their home. However, we cannot expect all homeowners to bear the financial burden of this alone.
The government’s net zero carbon emissions target cannot be achieved without a large-scale retrofitting programme that transforms our existing housing stock.
We also need to see investors, lenders and the government working together to develop a more comprehensive mix of finance to help homeowners make these changes. This should include a mix of grants, loans and third-party funding, which support homeowners of different levels of ability to pay for improvements to the homes they live in and ultimately support us to achieve net zero. This needs to happen sooner, not later. It needs to happen sooner for the households that will be hanging onto a financial precipice this winter. But it also needs to happen soon for the health of our planet.
A recent study suggested that under the government’s current strategy, housing will account for all of England’s cumulative carbon budget (the total amount of greenhouse gases England can emit over a certain period) between now and 2050. More than 90% of the national carbon budget will be used up by our insufficiently insulated existing homes, and 12% from the construction and operation of the government’s pledge to build 300,000 new homes per year.
We have known for decades that a high proportion of greenhouse gas emissions come from our homes. However, this statistic reinforces the fact that the UK government’s net zero carbon emissions target cannot be achieved without a large-scale retrofitting programme that transforms our existing housing stock.
We're not currently doing enough to prepare UK homes, and their inhabitants, for the impacts of climate change; from higher temperatures and the risk of overheating to more extreme weather events, including droughts, water scarcity and flooding. National funding programmes have been subject to cuts (including energy efficiency schemes such as the Green Deal) and the capacity of local authorities and their partners to provide grants, information, advice, and equipment has been adversely affected. As the Institute of Health Equity’s recent research highlights, rates of installations to improve household energy efficiency to band C or above have dropped by approximately 90% since 2012.
The time to act is now. For the sake of people who will be anxious every time the heating goes on this winter for fear of the cost. For the sake of our planet which is breaking records year-on-year for rising temperatures and unprecedented extreme weather events.
We want to hear and learn from other areas or organisations that are trying to address these issues. If you’re interested in finding out more about what we do and sharing your experiences, please contact us.