National Energy Action (NEA) issues initial comment on recent manifesto commitments
Today, the Conservative Party announced that if they win the election as well as protecting more customers from unfair bills, they will meet the existing commitment to upgrade all fuel poor homes to a reasonable standard of energy efficiency by 2030. They also announced they will means test Winter Fuel Payments for wealthier pensioners to improve social care. To date Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have all committed to other actions which can help end fuel poverty. NEA has today provided our initial views on these current commitments. NEA will also be setting out further detailed analysis once the remaining political parties have published their plans. In summary, we believe an incoming UK Government must act with real urgency to turn warm words into warmer homes straight after the general election.
Introduction and headline take:
To avoid impacts for those who have already switched and are now on fixed deals we need to see targeted action on energy prices alongside a greater push to increase household incomes. We welcome the current cross-party consensus on the need for greater investment to improve energy efficiency too. As well as saving lives and creating economic growth in all parts of the UK this will reduce costs to all energy consumers and taxpayers, cut emissions as well as improving the quality of lives. We now need to see real urgency to turn this into reality; converting warm words in manifestos into warmer homes as soon as possible after the election.
On today’s proposals from the Conservative party specifically:
- NEA believes the current winter fuel payment budget should be maintained and if the policy is to be reformed the savings must be spent on the purpose it was intended; to tackle fuel poverty. Any saving could pay for preventative home improvements, helping to improve or stabilise health conditions that could be made worse by living in cold conditions. Crisis repairs and replacements for broken or dangerous boilers for example as well as more targeted rebates. As well as stopping poorer pensioners getting sick or dying prematurely this would also directly help people to stay living in their home longer and reduce social care and health related costs. Currently, a lack of investment in these types of preventative actions costs taxpayers well over a billion pounds each year.
- A full and transparent consultation will also be needed to investigate the wider risks of means testing Winter Fuel Payments and/or the need for automatic data-matching. At the moment poor benefit take up is endemic (especially for pensioners) and so we must avoid penalising the most disadvantaged pensioner households, i.e those who are entitled to benefits like Pension Credit for example but are not currently claiming them. The Government estimate that over a third of those eligible for pension credit aren’t claiming it. This could therefore result in a minimum of c.£300m per annum of Winter Fuel Payments being channelled towards social care activities, away from possible WFP recipients, if this was chosen as the eligibility criteria and there was not a wider co-ordinated push to drive up low take up of these or other benefit entitlements. There may also be risks and/or opportunities if current and/or new powers provided automatic data-matching instead.
On the proposal for a National Productivity Investment Fund and plans for the smart meter rollout:
- Like the social care budget, existing fuel poverty schemes are under resourced; less than half of what is required to help end the scandal of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society not being able to keep warm. We welcome the proposal for a new National Productivity Investment Fund. These resources must also help deliver the renewed commitment to get all fuel poor homes to a reasonable standard of energy efficiency by 2030 and more generally improve the nations woefully inefficient housing stock. We are also pleased the Conservatives will stick with the planned roll-out of smart meters and in home displays (IHDs). All consumers must be given an equal opportunity to end estimated bills, estimated energy usage and get accurate information and advice they understand.
- NEA works on a cross-party basis and undertakes key research, advocacy and works collaboratively with partners from local and national government, industry and the third sector to deliver practical solutions to people living in cold homes. NEA has a network of offices throughout England and also has national offices in Cardiff and Belfast which also work to support deprived communities and low income energy consumers in Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. NEA also works closely with our sister organisation Energy Action Scotland (EAS) to ensure we can collectively provide a genuine UK wide reach. Please visit nea.org.uk.
- A copy of the Conservative Manifesto can be found here: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto.
- The current rate of the WFP is between £200 per year or £300 where the eligible member(s) are aged 80 or over.
- In 2012 the higher rate of £250 and £400 reverted to the base rate of £200 and £300. In a written response to a parliamentary question the UK Government confirmed that the combined impact of the changes pushed 25,000 more households into fuel poverty in England.
- The Winter Fuel Payment is officially considered to be a fuel poverty policy and is included within the fuel poverty strategy for England; Cutting the cost of keeping warm: UK Government, March 2015.
- It was also described by the Department for Work & Pensions as having a key aim of “tackling fuel poverty amongst pensioners”. See page.2: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/462178/winter-fuelpayment-official-statistics-winter-2014-to-2015.pdf.