Fuel Poverty

Part of Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 2:21 pm on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 2:21 pm, 21st March 2017

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. I share her frustrations and I will come on to that point shortly.

Looking at the efficacy of the Government’s fuel poverty initiatives thus far, they made a manifesto commitment to install one low-cost insulation measure in 1 million homes over the five years of the parliamentary term. That is welcome, but I suggest the Government need to be far more ambitious. Labour, for example, delivered 2.5 million insulation measures installed in homes in just one single year.

Turning to the funding through the warm homes discount, whereby money is given as relief to bill payers, this is commendable and it should certainly continue, but it is physically insulating homes themselves that will provide the long-term solution. On the energy company obligation, the main mechanism by which the Government take action on fuel poverty, it has a clear pathway only to next year. There is currently no clear indication of what will happen to the obligation after 2018 and the Government’s consultation on its future has not been forthcoming. I would be grateful if the Minister provided in this debate an update on progress on that area.

The Minister will be absolutely distraught to hear that the UK ranked 14 out of 16 western European countries for fuel poverty, and ranked bottom for the proportion of people who cannot afford to adequately heat their home. I think he would probably agree that this is not a brilliant record for the country with the fifth-largest economy in the world. A helpful comparison to draw is Sweden, where incomes are similar to the UK’s but winters are much colder and gas is more expensive. One might think that Sweden would have a significant fuel poverty problem that far outstripped that of the UK, which by comparison has mild winters, but levels of fuel poverty in Sweden are approximately half those found in the UK. The major difference is that Swedish homes are properly insulated. A typical Swedish wall is three times more energy efficient. A commitment to that kind of innovation, along with providing the necessary funding, will truly tackle fuel poverty.

The Labour party is keen to make that commitment as part of its industrial strategy to end social injustice and to build a world-leading UK-based renewables and energy efficiency sector with UK-based supply chains. Labour agrees with the NEA, and Caroline Lucas, which states that the National Infrastructure Commission and the UK Government must act on the strong case for domestic energy efficiency to be regarded as a hugely important infrastructure priority. The Minister might wish to outline the Government’s position on that and whether he agrees with Labour.

Economic analysis by the well-regarded Frontier Economics suggests that the net present value of investing in insulating homes could be as valuable as the HS2 project. Cambridge Econometrics found that for each pound spent on insulating homes £1.12 is generated for the Treasury and £3 for the economy in GDP, and 42 pence is saved by the NHS. It is clear that investing in insulation has a positive effect not just for those in fuel poverty or for climate change, but for the wider economy. Unfortunately, however, the fact is that if we compare major insulation measures being installed today to 10 years ago under the previous Labour Government, there has been a huge 88% fall. Put another way, the long-term solution to fuel poverty gets 12% of the support that it originally received.

The fuel poor, by definition, are not in a place to insulate their own homes. It is therefore incumbent on the Government to step in. It is also important for the Government to recognise the wider benefits a real fuel efficiency infrastructure plan would have for all income groups, industry and the wider economy. A little more support from the Government, both to those affected by fuel poverty and to industries waiting to blossom in the renewables sector, could unleash untold economic and social benefits.

To conclude, the Government’s intentions, and those of Ministers, might be good, but there is still a mountain of work to be done. The Labour party is open to working across the House to end fuel poverty for all our constituents. I do hope the Minster has listened to my concerns and will respond accordingly.