News over the last week has drawn attention to environmental protestors blocking roads in the south-east of England. The strategic blockages have been a huge headache to motorists going about their business, transporting parcels and food, or getting to work or the airport, and have led to at least 40 arrests of protestors.
The UK government urged protests to cease, saying, “We are investing £1.3bn this year alone to support people to install energy efficiency measures, and our upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy will set out how we decarbonise the nation’s homes in a way that is fair, practical and affordable.”
Insulation across the nation
‘Insulate Britain’ is the title that the campaigners have gone with, focusing on a slogan that puts practical action at the centre. They demand that firstly social housing by 2025 and then all housing by 2030 be insulated/retrofitted for ‘a just transition to fully decarbonise all parts of the society and economy’.
We talked about insulation as part of a ‘Recovery to Flourishing’ proposal in 2020, and certainly hold as much desire as the protestors and anyone else that all homes should be comfortable without costing the Earth.
The cost of not insulating
It’s no surprise that draughty homes that require lots of heating in colder months are expensive to run. It is also no surprise that people with the lowest incomes tend to live in the draughtiest houses
There is some help towards heating bills; annual winter fuel payments of between £100 and £300 are available to those who receive the State pension and some other benefits. Cold weather payments of £25 for seven-day periods of very cold weather may be offered to others who receive social security benefits such as Universal Credit.
What an enormous difference it would make for those who currently depend on payments like these if their homes were easy and inexpensive to keep warm.
The UK government tried to make some commitments towards this goal with its Green Homes Grant last year, but when the scheme attracted only 10% of its intended applicants, the cash was allocated to local authorities to administer instead. Government changed the borrowing requirements for social housing providers to fund renovations and new builds. So has the can been kicked down the road from national government to local government instead? Should the ‘Insulate Britain’ crew be outside town halls instead of clogging strategic highways?
There might well be a case for that thinking, but there is still much that can be done at national level. In Scotland, the Homes Acts 2001 and 2006, in Wales the Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and in England, the Homes Act 2018 apply to private or council/housing association rental properties regarding fitness for human habitation. But the housing sector is still poorly regulated when it comes to a minimum standard of energy efficiency. Property owners must produce an EPC for prospective tenants (and buyers), but are still permitted to rent out energy-inefficient houses. Introducing effective regulation here would make an enormous difference to energy usage and reduce the impact of fuel poverty too.
For the climate and the future
Better insulation in our homes is good news for individuals and families but also for the planet. As the UK and other nations try to wean themselves off of fossil fuels for energy and heating, insulation in our homes will help us reach net zero carbon commitments.
As our electricity supply comes increasingly from renewable sources, insulated homes will reduce the burden that this fossil-free energy used to heat our living spaces places on the national grid, reducing the necessity for costly infrastructure development or the risk of power cuts and brownouts. The affluent are already able to decide if they would like to add technology to their homes for local energy production and storage, ensuring tremendous energy resilience, but this might not ever be an attainable option for those experiencing poverty or renting their home. Insulation is better for everyone.
What can churches do?
The Church of England’s ‘Coming Home’ report, published last year, recommended the development of ‘a long-term, cross-party housing strategy to improve the quality and sustainability of the existing stock and increase the supply of truly affordable new housing’. Our churches must continue to amplify the voices of those who live in homes which are inadequate and unsafe.
We must also continue to speak up for the Earth, those most at risk due to climate catastrophe and future generations who will have to adapt to a more challenging environment.
Locally, can you and your church meet with councillors and housing departments to urge them to act? And will you engage your MP, MSP or MS in the process to ensure that all homes will reach a minimum standard of energy efficiency?
More than Bricks and Mortar (JPIT, 2019)
Coming Home (Church of England, 2020)
A note on non-violent direct action
The Joint Public Issues Team treads carefully when it comes to non-violent direct action. We held a workshop about it at our 2020 Conference and our histories as non-conformist denominations testify to the freedoms to protest we have been afforded in the UK. You can read more about why it is important to us in our briefing on the Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We encourage our supporters to make up their own mind about how they take action, mindful of the complexities of protest (and how delicate the balance is between seeking public awareness and attracting public ire and resistance). As a team, we also invest in strengthening other strategies for engagement within the halls of power at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd in Wales.