There are over 2 million households in England currently living in fuel poverty and there were an estimated 43,900 excess winter deaths in England and Wales last winter, which is the highest this century. This is a national disgrace and more needs to be done to end the scandal of cold homes. Energy efficiency is the most effective way of lifting people out of fuel poverty. However, the Government lacks ambition in this area.
During the last Parliament, the Coalition Government’s flagship energy efficiency schemes were the Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation (ECO). The ECO resulted in the number of households getting insulation falling dramatically, while only 5,000 households had measures installed under the Green Deal. The Conservative manifesto pledged to insulate a million more homes over the next 5 years. This is an 80% reduction on the already inadequate number of energy efficiency measures delivered in the last Parliament.
The Government has ended funding to the Green Deal and will replace the ECO from April 2017 with a cheaper supplier obligation which will run for 5 years. The Government has significantly cut the ECO budget. It is also the case that, between 2010-2013, only 70,000 fuel-poor households were rated at band C or above for energy efficiency, leaving 95% still to be improved. At this rate, the Government will miss its 2030 fuel poverty target by 100 years.
It is clear that the Government’s approach to energy efficiency has failed. I am concerned that the real terms cut in the number of homes to be insulated means more families will be left in the cold this winter and will be paying more for their energy bills. This will hit older people and those in rural communities particularly hard. I am also concerned that the Government’s approach to energy policy more widely is putting jobs and investment at risk and is setting back our efforts to tackle climate change.
At the general election I stood on a manifesto that included a commitment to freeze energy bills until 2017 and proposed creating a new regulator with a legal duty to force energy suppliers to cut their prices when wholesale costs fall and with an extended remit to cover off-grid households, in order to protect millions of vulnerable families.
I support a much more ambitious programme. Energy efficiency should be a national infrastructure priority. Prior to the election, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues committed to this and proposed upgrading at least 5 million homes over ten years. My Shadow Frontbench colleagues pledged to provide free energy efficiency improvements for 200,000 households a year in or at risk of fuel poverty; interest free loans for energy efficiency improvements for up to 1 million households; and a new target to upgrade properties in the private rented sector to a minimum of Energy Performance Certificate C by 2027.
I will continue to press the Government to reconsider its infrastructure investment and to push for more ambition on energy efficiency.