There was a very important vote in Parliament last week.

On 4 December Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North [Labour] put down an amendment to the Coalition’s Energy Bill.

The amendment called for clear and unambiguous targets to end fuel poverty.

The amendment had the full backing of the ‘End Fuel Poverty Coalition’ – an alliance of 50 + poverty, environmental, health, trade union and consumer organisations, which includes e.g. Age UK, Child Poverty Action Group, Disability Alliance, Federation of Private Residents’ Associations, Macmillan Cancer Support, National Federation of Women’s Institutes, Save the Children, TUC and UK Public Health Association.

The amendment was lost – the Coalition marshalled its troops.

Greg Mulholland voted against it.
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As will be clear from the very wide range of groups supporting the amendment, this was a very important vote.
The Tory/LibDem Coalition had introduced amendments to the Energy Bill in the House of Lords. These removed the legal commitment to end fuel poverty by 2016. They also mean that in future there will be no further Parliamentary scrutiny of Government commitments to end fuel poverty.

The debate on 4th December was the first opportunity MPs had to discuss the Government’s fuel poverty amendment, despite the fact that it has far reaching implications for future fuel poverty policy and the lives of millions of low income consumers.

Chris Williamson’s amendment aimed to re-introduce energy efficiency targets – to tackle fuel poverty and to hold this and future Governments to account.

We give below the End Fuel Poverty Campaign’s assessment of the amendment and its impact.

What was Chris Williamson amendment aiming to achieve?

It would have required the Government to set itself targets for tackling fuel poverty by radically improving the fabric of UK homes. It would:

• Set a target of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) level B by 2030 for all homes occupied by low income households, and an interim target of EPC D by 2020. EPC B is the minimum standard for a home built today.

Why is it important to have minimum targets?

There is a considerable body of evidence to show that both in housing and other areas, regulated minimum standards work:

• Decent Homes Programme, which set very minimal energy performance standards, nevertheless led to significantly higher standards in social housing than private housing;

• The introduction of minimum standards for gas central heating boilers in 2002 has reduced the average annual fuel bill by £85;

• The Scottish Government is about to introduce regulations that will require all social housing to meet ambitious minimum energy efficiency standards by 2020. It considers that this will provide an important step towards meeting its 2050 carbon reduction target.

What would it have cost?

End Fuel Poverty Campaign research shows that it would cost £1bn pa to meet the interim EPC D target by the end of 2020 at an average cost per household of £4,600, with 1.34m households helped . This is roughly equivalent to the annual spend under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) programme, although only 42% of ECO is currently targeted at low income consumers .

• Meeting the EPC B target by the end of 2030 (assuming a Jan. 2021 start) would cost £4bn pa. This entails spending an average of £7,400 per household, with 5.5m households helped.

• However, households receiving help would save £153 pa on their fuel bills by 2020 and a further £380 pa by 2030. The cumulative impact of these bill savings is roughly similar to the cost of the measures. But the households helped will have warm and healthy homes, affordable fuel bills and more disposable income to spend on other goods and services.

Was there a strong economic case for these targets?

Yes. The resources required were significant but this is the most cost effective long-term solution for our high energy bills when set against:

• The estimated £1.3bn pa cost to the NHS of treating the symptoms of fuel poverty. The 2012 Chief Medical Officer’s annual report states that every 42p spent on energy efficiency results in a £1 saving in NHS costs.

• The £200bn required to overhaul our energy infrastructure – investment that could be reduced considerably if action was taken first on reducing energy demand;

• The £4bn pa the Government will receive from carbon taxes which are expected to add £67 to the average annual fuel bill by 2020 . These resources should be invested in an energy efficiency programme that is capable of meeting our proposed targets .

Would the amendment have helped to create jobs and growth?

Yes. EFPC research shows that an ambitious programme to improve the homes of fuel poor households would also have substantial economic benefits:

130,000 additional jobs, boosting GDP by 0.2%;

Many of these jobs would be created in low income communities and utilise the skills of many of the current unemployed. The programme would be more cost effective than almost any other comparable investment programme .

Would the amendment have helped to end fuel poverty?

Yes. Achieving these targets would have a huge impact on reducing fuel poverty – 70% of fuel poor households currently live in homes rated E, F or G.

The EFPC estimates that fuel poverty under the new definition would reduce from 2.4m households to 0.9m by 2030 and the aggregate ‘fuel poverty gap’ (severity of fuel poverty) by over a third – from 1.05bn to 0.3bn.’

This is not our assessment – it is the assessment of Age UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Disability Alliance, the Federation of Women’s Institutes among others.

And it looks like win-win-win – makes economic sense, great green credentials plus it would have achieved an important move towards ending fuel poverty and all the injustice that represents.

A no-brainer?

Well, that depends on who you speak for and where your priorities lie.

Mr Mulholland doesn’t always turn up for votes in Parliament.
He turned up for this one.
And he helped vote the amendment down.

So now we know who he speaks for, and what his priorities are.
And they don’t seem to be the best interests of his constituents in Leeds North West.
Don’t look much like a “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society”, either.

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