We need lower energy bills if we are to end fuel poverty and the cold homes crisis. This much is agreed.
Yet no other shadow announcements have received as much exposure on the doorstep – nor collected as many critics from government, press, and business leaders – as Labour’s current energy policies. Depending on where you stand, this prescribed programme of ‘tough on energy company’ interventions represent either an encouraging, or disturbing, cornerstone of Ed Miliband’s leftist intention.
Outside of disagreement between energy companies and the party, no matter what colour or context of the next government, without ambitious action we know the consequences of failing to act.
At least 30,000 people are expected to die prematurely over the next parliament directly as a result of cold homes. It is vital that any planned intervention acknowledges this if we are to ensure social justice for our most vulnerable neighbours.
Asides from changing the definition of the problem, the keystone in the current coalition government’s fight against fuel poverty has been the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO), paid for by all energy consumers – rich or poor – which funds the ‘Big 6’ to carryout insulation and boiler replacements. Since 2013, ECO has failed to prioritise those in fuel poverty, cherry picked eligible households regardless of vulnerability, and completely lacks the investment of at least £2.6bn needed per annum to help save the NHS from being overburdened by those living with life threateningly cold conditions.
The Labour Energy Team’s green paper – launched late last year and entitled ‘An End to Cold Homes’ –goes some way to address the failure of current policy. Critically, it places those who are closest to the current suffering, such as local authorities, at the centre of its approach. Caroline Flint MP characterised this approach as a “war on cold homes”. However, Labour’s proposal – much like the current governments – categorically fails to admit that far more treasury resources are needed if we are to end the cold homes crisis before thousands needlessly die.
Put simply, no war was ever fought without an arsenal of resources and adequate investment. Labour must be bold and avoid making this fight a war of attrition, poorly supplied with woefully limited resources.
If our leaders need confidence that this goal is a sound use of public money, as well as providing affordable fuel bills and warm, healthy homes for the most disadvantaged consumers, it has been proved time and time again that an ambitious approach would create skilled jobs, help prevent crisis in the NHS, and secure economic growth.
To prevent failure, National Energy Action (NEA) has for 30 years played its part directly assisting those struggling to afford a liveable standard of warmth, but the problem needs serious government support. Raising awareness of Britain’s cold homes crisis, NEA recently created two resources arming MPs and parliamentary candidates with the knowledge to help support constituents in every community.
Collating data on the number and proportion of fuel poor households, the amount of needless winter mortalities, alongside the proportion of known worst insulated properties, www.actionforwarmhomes.uk works to inform MPs and election candidates the extent of fuel poverty specifically in their constituency. Additionally a free online course entitled ‘Fuel Poverty Causes, Impacts, Change’ works to provide background knowledge on current fuel poverty legislation, methods of recognising and supporting fuel poor constituents, with recommendations on desirable policy options which could end the scandal of cold homes. Both the website and the module are an invaluable resource for every new and incumbent parliamentary entrant if they are seriously prepared to assist us and fully committed to ending fuel poverty.
A radical government would not only accept the morale need, it would work to fully understand the problem, act to fund itself properly, while seizing the multiple economic, health, and environmental benefits for all members of our society. Surely there are few better investments the next government could make.