Josiah Lockhart: Policy U-turn will condemn more households to fuel poverty

Josiah Lockhart: Policy U-turn will condemn more households to fuel poverty

Josiah Lockhart

Changeworks chief executive Josiah Lockhart outlines how the UK Government’s policy U-turns will worsen the fuel poverty crisis, will not lower household energy bills, and how retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures is the only way to bring bills down.

Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his government is planning to discard a number of measures that would help the UK move towards net zero. This was followed by the UK Government announcing that it will also be scrapping its own energy efficiency taskforce, just six months after it was set up.

The disbanding of the group, which was put in place to speed up home insulation and boiler upgrades, casts further doubt on the UK Government’s desire and ability to ease the cost-of-living crisis for millions across the UK.

The weakening of policies, including scrapping energy efficiency upgrades for landlords and extending the target date for phasing out gas boilers, will have a devastating impact on householders already struggling with high energy bills.

Scotland has some of the least energy efficient housing in Europe.

In Scotland, around 35% of households are in fuel poverty, and over 50% of homes have an Energy Performance rating of D or below. This is where the link between the climate crisis and fuel poverty crisis becomes obvious. Relying on oil and gas for home heating leads to higher, unaffordable energy bills.

During his announcement from Downing Street last week, the Prime Minister said that the hardest hit households will “never” have to switch from a gas boiler to a heat pump. This will leave those in fuel poverty, who are already at the mercy of volatile global markets, struggling further still to pay higher, unaffordable energy bills, whilst the UK fails to meet its climate change obligations.

These policy U-turns will not lower household energy bills or carbon emissions. These will continue to remain high until homes in Scotland and the rest of the UK are retrofitted with energy efficient measures such as heat pumps and insulation, and until the UK stops relying on gas and oil and instead focuses on the electrification of heat.

The Prime Minister pointed out that he wants a “more pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic” approach to net zero. This already exists via a number of home efficiency grants here in Scotland thanks to Home Energy Scotland. Despite what the Prime Minister said last week, households won’t be “forced” to pay thousands of pounds to retrofit their homes.

The UK and Scottish governments talk about “ambition” to meet net zero. However, both are currently failing to meet their net zero targets. Ambition means nothing without action. Even worse, the ability to take action is now being actively undermined. This week’s announcement that the Rosebank oil and gas field in the North Sea has been approved is further proof of this.

The Prime Minister spoke about not wanting to “chase short-term headlines” and do things that are “right in the long term”. His announcement, however, will have the opposite effect. A weakened commitment to a low carbon society condemns more people to fuel poverty, and risks a messier, unjust transition to net zero in the near future.

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