Fuel Poverty

Part of Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 21st March 2017.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Co-Leader of the Green Party 3:10 pm, 21st March 2017

I had not intended to speak today because I thought this was going to be a packed debate; that was my misjudgment. This is a crucial debate, however, and I want to add a few words. One of the frustrations that many of us feel is that tackling fuel poverty by investing in energy efficiency can really be a win-win situation in getting people’s fuel bills down, tackling climate change and creating jobs. The creation of those jobs has led to the conclusion that by investing in tackling energy efficiency problems we can actually raise more money than we need to invest. That was rightly mentioned by Rebecca Long Bailey.

Evidence shows that £3 can be returned to the economy for every £1 invested by central Government, so when the Government say that they cannot afford to invest more in this agenda, it is only right for us to point out that, if the agenda were tackled properly, it could save them money as well as having very real impacts such as reducing the serious harm being done to so many in our communities and preventing premature deaths. So, given that there are so few win-wins in politics, it seems particularly perverse that the Government are turning their back on this one. Taking action in this way would help to ensure that the 2.3 million families living in fuel poverty across the UK had some kind of hope for the future.

We have heard from several hon. Members that fuel poverty is not just an inconvenience; it is nothing less than a national crisis. Forgive me for referencing this for, I think, a third time, but this is so frustrating because we know that we need to scale up investment in energy efficiency, and the national infrastructure process would have been an obvious way to do that. It would be a way to channel funding into this incredibly important area, which otherwise risks being overlooked in many ways.

I want to mention the Committee on Climate Change, whose report last week made it clear that improving energy efficiency through better insulating our homes is key to meeting our climate targets. In that respect, will the Minister give us an indication of when the severely delayed clean growth plan will be published and whether it will include a comprehensive energy efficiency plan, including a statutory commitment to ensuring that all fuel-poor homes have an energy performance rating of at least C by 2030 at the latest?

With one in 10 households living in fuel poverty, it is also a matter of concern that the Government have no scheme for comprehensively insulating fuel-poor homes in England. Meanwhile, the changes being made to the energy company obligation are likely to decrease the support available to fuel-poor households, with those on low incomes unable to replace inefficient gas boilers, for example. We know that 9,000 excess deaths were linked to fuel poverty last winter, and if we are to take seriously the claims being made about the Government’s commitment to this issue, we need to know when will they put in place the kind of actions that are needed.

Finally, I want to say a little bit about how people can, to coin a phrase, take back control. That phrase has been used a lot in recent months, and if there is one area of our lives where we should be taking back control, it is in relation to energy. Right now, our energy system is in the hands of the big six, and for ordinary consumers, it can feel very hard to have any kind of leverage. We are always told that we simply have to switch our power supplier, but again, that puts responsibility on the consumer and we are still at the mercy of whatever the different energy companies come up with.

Instead of having the big six, we should have 60,000. We should do what Germany is doing and have real community energy, not just as a nice-to-have extra bit of luxury but as the bread and butter of our energy system. If we were to do that, we could really give people more control over energy. We could ensure that the huge energy companies were not siphoning off big profits and that investment was going back into the community. We would need to ensure priority access to the grid for community renewables, and a community right of first use—at wholesale, not retail, prices—of the energy generated. We would also need a planning framework that was able to determine locally the degree of community ownership required as a precondition of permitted development, and a right to acquire or own the local distribution network and to sell long consumption—in other words, demand reduction—alongside demand management and renewable energy. I can also imagine a role for the Green Investment Bank, if it was still properly in our hands rather than being flogged off to Macquarie, as seems likely to happen.

We have heard a lot today about the importance of tackling fuel poverty, and that is exactly right. We have also heard a lot about the impact of fuel poverty on our constituents. If we were to take a slightly bolder view, we could solve fuel poverty at the same time as bringing energy properly back into community hands—into the hands of us all—and that is a vision worth fighting for.