Home Insulation: Health and Mortality Rates - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:17 pm on 19 March 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Blake of Leeds Baroness Blake of Leeds Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Net Zero), Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade) 3:17, 19 March 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the impact of current levels of home insulation on health and mortality rates.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

My Lords, evidence of the health benefits of government insulation schemes is gathered as part of those schemes’ evaluations. Recent evaluations show that schemes had a positive impact on general health. For example, improvements in the health of someone in the household were reported after the installations from our government energy efficiency schemes. Of course, the health impacts are higher for those with pre-existing health conditions.

Photo of Baroness Blake of Leeds Baroness Blake of Leeds Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Net Zero), Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade)

Recent reports, including by Sir Michael Marmot, have made a clear link between poor home insulation—coupled with the cost of living crisis and high energy costs—and devastating impacts on the health outcomes of thousands of the most vulnerable people across the country, young and old. What cross-cutting analysis are the Government undertaking to reassess fully the impact of their performance in delivering home insulation in the light of the chronic health outcomes highlighted?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I just explained in the Answer to the noble Baroness that as part of all our energy efficiency schemes, we do evaluations afterwards of the effect on people’s bills and health. We are spending over £12 billion over this Parliament and the next on insulation schemes, because we know they make a crucial difference.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

My Lords, it feels as if energy conservation is still the last thought and never the first. We have some of the highest domestic energy bills in Europe and some of the worst-insulated homes, yet we fail adequately to improve home insulation. Meanwhile, we continue to import gas from countries such as Russia. When will the Government do the right thing for bill payers and the environment and set more ambitious home installation targets, particularly for social rented homes?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I disagree with the noble Earl; the figures he quoted are not correct, and we are improving home insulation standards. To give one figure, in 2010, 17% of homes in the UK were EPCC or above; now the figure is almost 50%, so we are making progress. We have a lot more to do. We have the oldest housing stock in Europe, but we are making progress.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, have the Government given any thought to older houses, particularly ones in conservation areas or that are listed? If you want to replace sash windows with double-glazed ones, there is not only that expense but the need to obtain planning consent or listed building consent. It is a very expensive enterprise. What do the Government propose to do to help in this situation?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

The noble Baroness makes a very good point, and I suspect that she speaks from personal experience. Improvements in energy conservation for homes in listed or conservation areas is a difficult issue. We recently carried out a joint study with DLUHC and Historic Houses, and provided guidance for home owners wanting to do that. She will be delighted to know that you can get well-insulated, double-glazed sash windows to replace the originals.

Photo of Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Conservative

My Lords, those with respiratory conditions face life-limiting risks from fuel poverty and poor insulation, and those risks are obviously triggered by weather factors. Is the Minister aware of the potential of AI-based weather models to predict and manage the risks faced by those with health conditions, including prioritising those who would benefit most from the insulation programmes? Will he engage with partners such as the Alan Turing Institute and the Met Office to explore the opportunities to harness these technologies for public benefit?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I thank my noble friend for the question. There are some great technologies coming forward now and, of course, we are always interested to explore how government investment can be better targeted on those who need it the most.

Photo of Lord Clark of Windermere Lord Clark of Windermere Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are problems with cavity wall insulation in various older houses, in that the cavities are not large enough to qualify for government assistance? Will he look into that and see if anything can be done to move it forward?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I am certainly aware of some technical challenges with different technologies. We have a multiplicity of different housing types. Of course, if the cavities are too small, those properties can benefit from internal or external wall insulation. I would be happy to have a look at that for the noble Lord.

Photo of Baroness Manzoor Baroness Manzoor Conservative

My Lords, has any thought been given to our mortgage providers—banks and others—enabling people who move home to get their home insulated by providing a slightly lower interest rate or some other benefit? That would mean that, every time anyone moves, the house would be insulated, for the betterment of all.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

My noble friend asks a really good question. We have a number of innovative pilots with lenders, such as green mortgages and different ways of structuring finance that can help people to upgrade their homes. There are some potential tax changes —which, of course, are a matter for the Chancellor—that could help, but we will continue to make the case.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The Minister referred to the amount of money being put into insulation schemes, but does he accept that over the last 10 years a rota of schemes has been introduced, and that they have failed and been closed down? Does he accept that the industry needs consistent, clear policy, so that it can invest in training in particular, so that the money the Government put in is actually value for money?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

No, I do not accept that. There has not been a rota of schemes. The most successful scheme, the ECO scheme, has been going since the early part of the previous decade and we have committed funding for a number of years to come. The more successful schemes, such as the social housing decarbonisation fund and others, are also multi-year programmes precisely to provide the long-term certainty to industry that so many contractors say they desire. We have already announced the funding for 2025-28—another £6 billion—and we have set out the schemes on which it will be spent. So, no, I am afraid I do not accept the noble Baroness’s analysis.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, 20 years ago, when I had some responsibility for the insulation programme, health issues were just as important, if not more so, than fuel poverty as such, or climate change. I made some attempt to get the Department of Health to recognise the preventive nature of this programme. I failed totally, but would the Minister care to comment on his ability to persuade the current Department of Health that a preventive insulation programme is very much in its interests and the long-term interests of the health service?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I have not had any discussions with the Department of Health on this. I am not sure of my ability to persuade it of anything, but I would have thought it relatively self-evident that spending money on insulation schemes saves people money and has long-term health benefits. I do not think we need any studies to show us that.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench

My Lords, to follow up on the issue of failed government schemes, would the noble Lord care to comment on the green homes grant scheme, which failed in 2021? As I understand it, it failed on account of the lack of trained and skilled people to pick up the grant scheme. What focus do the Government have on essential training in these skills?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

The noble Earl asks a very good question, and there have been a number of studies into why that scheme was not as successful as we would have liked. The fact that it was instituted at the end of the pandemic was one reason; poor choice of delivery contractor was another. I readily concede that there is a general problem in the sector with lack of suppliers and installers, and that is due to the amount of work going on through government schemes and the private sector. We all need to work, together with the installers and the contractors, to build up capacity in the sector. One of the ways we can do that, going back to an earlier question, is to provide long-term certainty of funding.