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Opinion

Spring Budget: We need to upgrade Britain’s leaky homes to insulate against the energy crisis

The Great Homes Upgrade is calling on Rishi Sunak to invest £11.7bn to make homes warmer and greener and slash energy bills, says New Economics Foundation organiser Aydin Dikerdem.

Earlier this month campaigners from over 28 organisations came together to call for a Great Homes Upgrade for Britain’s cold and leaky housing stock.

Currently, the UK has some of the least efficient housing in Europe, which means our draughty homes leak heat and suffer from problems like damp and mould. This is not only bad for our health, our wellbeing and our pockets, but it’s also bad for our environment. In fact, one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK comes from home energy use – just under 20 per cent of total UK carbon emissions.

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The recent energy crisis has really hit home how unsustainable this is. People’s bills are going through the roof, and the scourge of fuel poverty is hitting more and more households who just want to keep warm.

Analysis by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has found that the poorest 10 per cent of families in the UK are currently set to be £420 a year poorer come April, even after government energy rebates and increases to the minimum wage. At the same time, the war in Ukraine is a wake-up call to the dangers of the UK relying on dirty fossil fuels from the global market, when we could have secure renewable sources of energy to keep us warm in our homes.

That’s why NEF is calling for a Great Homes Upgrade, a national programme of work that would transform the lives of millions of households whilst also creating thousands of quality, skilled jobs in insulation and installation.

Upgrading our homes, also known as ‘retrofitting’, is the process of installing new features in a building which has already been built. First, we can make housing more energy efficient through things like better insulation and double- or triple-glazed windows. Second, we can replace dirty fossil-fuel heating systems, like gas boilers, with clean alternatives, like heat pumps. Had we started this work 10 years ago, low-income families would have (literally) been far better insulated against the current price rises in gas and would not be going through so much hardship. Insulation installed in homes in the last decade will save families almost £200 a year from April.

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The Great Homes Upgrade is a package of measures designed to give this national mission a running start. Currently there is an appetite from businesses to do this work, but they need the government to commit to the first tranche of investment and take the lead.

Investing £11.7billion for home insulation measures and low-carbon heating solutions over the course of this parliament would get us on the path to upgrading seven million homes by 2025 and almost 19 million by 2030. That’s the same amount the government is spending on refurbishing the Houses of Parliament.

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Improving health, saving people money, creating thousands of good, skilled jobs and cutting dangerous carbon emissions – it’s no wonder why so many organisations are calling on the government to act.

There are few policies that achieve so many different goals, and that’s reflected in the breadth of organisations that have come out to support this campaign – be it Fuel Poverty Action and the Centre for Ageing Better, climate campaigners like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, industry practitioners like Retrofit Works and Parity Projects – all calling on Rishi Sunak to include a national home retrofitting programme in his upcoming spring Budget. This action was just the start: in order to win this campaign the benefits of retrofit need to become public demand. Together, we can make sure that everyone can afford to live in a warm, safe home.

Aydin Dikerdem is an organiser for think tank the New Economics Foundation.

@AydinDikerdem

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