Fund home insulation and heat pumps for people on low incomes, PM urged

By Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
roll of home insulation material
Good home insulation is vital to ending fuel poverty, say the charities calling for help for struggling households. Photograph: Miss Pearl/Getty Images

Charity bosses and poverty campaigners have written to Boris Johnson demanding home insulation and heat pumps for people on low incomes, and a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies to fund emergency support on energy bills for vulnerable people.

AgeUK, Save the Children and Tearfund are among 25 charities calling for urgent help for struggling households. Soaring energy prices, amid a gas supply crunch across Europe, mean poor households are facing £600 more on bills, forcing many to choose between eating and heating.

The worst impact will be seen when the energy price cap is redrawn in April, and the government has promised help for those most affected. But some of the measures mooted – such as scrapping energy efficiency programmes that are paid for through bills – would be counterproductive, the charities warned.

Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at the charity Save the Children, said: “The cost of living crisis, fuelled by soaring energy prices, is totally unsustainable and is hitting the lowest income families the hardest. Parents we work with tell us that they’re struggling to meet basic needs, leaving them having to make impossible choices between heating their homes and buying clothes for their children. And children are paying the price. Children deserve a fair and green future, and need a concrete plan from the UK government that tackles both the cost of living and climate crises.”

Ministers are believed to be considering scrapping or changing the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) levy, which funds energy efficiency improvements such as insulation for poor households, with the £1bn cost shared out through additions to all UK household energy bills.

But the charities warned this would penalise poor households most, reducing access to the home insulation vital to ending fuel poverty, and called instead for ECO and other levies that fund renewable and low-carbon energy, currently added to household bills, to be met through general taxation.

William Baker, of the charity Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty, another signatory to the letter seen by the Guardian, said: “ECO is central to the government’s legal duty to abolish fuel poverty by 2030. Scrapping the programme would show the government does not take its statutory responsibilities seriously. It would condemn many fuel-poor households to unaffordable fuel bills, ill health and, in the worst cases, death as a result of living in dangerously cold, unhealthy homes.”

The Conservative manifesto at the 2019 general election included a promise of more than £9bn for home insulation, but little has been spent. The disastrous green homes grant collapsed last spring with only about 47,000 households benefiting, of which only about 15,000 were low-income households, instead of the 600,000 homes promised.

Some rightwing commentators have sought to blame high energy prices on the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and the push for renewable energy. Economic analysts reject this, pointing out that reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the way to avoid the impact of gas price volatility, while tackling the climate crisis.

A government spokesperson said: “We recognise people are facing pressures with the cost of living, which is why we are taking action worth more than £4.2bn and supporting vulnerable households through initiatives such as the £500m Household Support Fund and Warm Home Discount.”

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