The climate column

The government is scamming us on insulation

It’s time for the Tories to wake up and get our insulation programmes back on track, writes Donnachadh McCarthy

Wednesday 07 December 2022 08:19 GMT
<p>Sunak’s greenwashing affords him positive headlines – and little else </p>

Sunak’s greenwashing affords him positive headlines – and little else

There are scams, there are Tory scams, and then there are the government’s home insulation scams.

Imagine if the prime minister announced new Health Service funding of £60 billion in the next parliament? The country would be celebrating the fact that we were finally investing the extra money needed to provide a decent service to patients.

Then imagine the outrage if we found out that all he actually did was confirm that the government would continue funding the NHS in the next parliament, while concealing the fact that they were actually cutting NHS funding in real terms by 10 per cent?

That is exactly what the recent Sunak/Hunt budget has done when it comes to the subject of insulation.

The government claimed in the budget that they were investing an additional £6 billion in energy efficiency for UK buildings.

But in the small print, you will discover this was not new money for this parliament, but just a promise to keep the current programme running in the next parliament, albeit with a significant cut. The current annual budget set in 2019 is a miserable £1.32 billion per year.

To keep up with inflation to date, the budget for the next parliament would need to rise to at least £1.66 billion per year.

But the announced “new money” is only £1.5 billion per year and thus – when you take inflation into account – it represents a real terms cut of 10 per cent on the abysmally low investments being made by the current Sunak government.

So why did Hunt tell parliament in his budget speech: “Today, I’m announcing new funding, from 2025, of a further £6 billion – doubling our annual investment to deliver this new national ambition"?

When we approached spokespeople from the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, neither were able to explain how he could justify this claim in light of the figures provided. In addition, a BEIS spokesperson was unable to say how much of even this cut budget would actually be spent on housing efficiency, rather than on public buildings.

Another even worse government scam was implicit in the last week’s announcement of a “new” £1billion ECO+ fund to target insulation measures for hard-to-heat homes.

As is typical of a Tory government scam, this was not the annual spend; rather, it was a totaling up of a three year annual spend of £0.33 billion per year (i.e. almost nothing). Even worse, it replaces the scrapped £3 billion Green Homes programme. Worse still, low-income families are to be excluded from 80% of the budget, as it is to be targeted more at middle class families! As such, it is a two-thirds cut on the previous programme, and directs money away from the poor and vulnerable people who need it the most!

Putting aside my anger at how this insulation greenwashing by Sunak affords him fraudulent positive headlines in the media, it has hugely destructive financial, health and climate implications for the country at large.

In 2012, the UK insulated 2,250,000 million cavity walls and lofts.

By 2021, under Sunak as chancellor, this had fallen to a truly pathetic 72,000!

An estimated 9 million homes could have had their energy efficiency updated by 2022, if the Tories had not decimated the home insulation programme from 2012 onwards.

A Treasury spokesperson told this column that there are currently only 100,000 homes being insulated per year in this parliament. If the Tories had not decimated the insulation programme, millions of families would not now be choosing so much between food and heat.

We would have slashed the thousands of premature pensioner deaths from the cold each winter, and the chancellor would not be squandering billions of pounds in taxpayers’ money subsidising wasted fossil fuel usage in our homes due to its soaring cost.

Carbon Brief has estimated that we are wasting £2.5 billion extra on heating our buildings this year, due to the accumulating Tory cuts in insulation and renewable energy programmes. Most importantly, we would have significantly cut the 20 per cent of UK carbon emissions that come from heating and powering our buildings. The government’s official climate advisers, the CCC, stated that they were “downbeat” that there was almost no reduction in building emissions between 2015 and 2019.

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The heroes from Insulation Britain who put their lives and their freedom on the line to highlight the colossal failure by the UK government on this crucial issue, deserve more respect and truth than these repeated scams.

Their protests generated massive public awareness and political support for action on insulation, but some of them remain in jail as I write this column.

The Labour Party, despite their aggressive attacks on the climate protectors, have to their credit taken on board just how crucial it is to take action on insulation.

They have pledged a £6 billion a year programme, which they say will last for a decade, to bring our homes up to standard. This is far more responsible response than Sunak’s greenwashing.

The Tories need to wake up. It is time to stop scamming us, and to get our insulation programmes back on track. We need to be insulating over 2 million homes a year, like we were in 2012.

More importantly, our right-wing media need to stop regurgitating Tory government press releases without querying the greenwashing facts behind them. With 19 million homes needing upgrading, the health, climate and economic crises all demand real insulation action now; not in 2030.

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