Nearly four in 10 UK households (39%) say they cannot afford to insulate their homes, according to new data commissioned by the Warm This Winter coalition, prompting campaigners to demand the government urgently refocus its efforts on boosting energy saving measures, rather than new oil and gas drilling.
Government plans to introduce annual oil and gas licensing rounds, which will be debated in Parliament next week (Monday, January 22), have been widely panned as a political gimmick.
The start of this year saw energy bills increase by a further £94 for the average household.
Half of all Londoners (50%) say that they cannot afford energy efficiency measures, the highest in the country, followed by households in Wales (46%) and Yorkshire and Humber (45%). Just over a third (35%) of people living in the South East say they would financially struggle to pay for energy saving measures.
And, the UK has some of the leakiest homes in Europe, with the majority rated EPC Band D or below and around a fifth of homes have no roof insulation, leaving consumers paying higher energy bills for colder homes. Upgrading inefficient homes to EPC band C would collectively save consumers £24 billion on their energy bills by 2030. It would also give the UK more energy independence as insulation lowers the amount of gas required to heat homes, and gas will increasingly come from abroad as the North Sea continues its decline.
Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho has conceded that new oil and gas licensing won’t bring down energy bills. Nor will it provide a boost to UK energy security: 70% of what is left in the North Sea is oil, the UK having already burned most of its gas, and most of this oil (80%) is exported. Research has shown that oil from new licences sent to UK refineries would account for less than 1% of a tank of petrol in the UK in 2030.
Analysis shows that it would take 190 years to upgrade the energy efficiency of the UK’s draughty housing stock at the current rate of the government’s flagship programme, the ‘Great British Insulation Scheme’, which installed just over 1000 energy efficiency measures between March and October 2023.
Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift said:
“This government is obsessing over oil and gas drilling, which will do absolutely nothing to lower bills, while progress on energy efficiency, which is the quickest and cheapest way to keep people warm this winter, has slowed to a crawl. Ministers need to realise that millions of people cannot afford to insulate their homes and that, by turning its back on them, it is condemning people to live in cold homes. The more the temperature drops, the more enraging it is to watch this government waste time and effort trying to wring the last drop of gas from the North Sea, when saving energy would help people so much more.”
Green Alliance spokesperson Holly Brazier Tope added:
"With millions of households continuing to struggle through the cost-of-living crisis, the government has chosen to spend its time on a gimmicky bill aimed at securing a soundbite ahead of the general election, rather than tackle the rampant energy crisis.
“It is alarming to see the lack of focus on energy efficiency which, alongside renewables, remains the only way to permanently lower bills and tackle the high levels of emissions from the housing sector. Instead of playing politics, the government should focus on measures that will make a difference to people’s lives, by rapidly rolling out energy efficiency measures to act in the interest of those living in cold, damp homes."
Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, also commented:
"While households struggle in cold, damp, mouldy homes and struggle to pay their bills, Ministers are sitting on their hands.
"They refused to introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and have refused to set up an industry wide scheme to help people repay their energy debts.
“What we need to see is urgent action on energy bills and the cost of insulation. But Ministers would rather play politics with a ridiculous Oil & Gas Licensing Bill that will do nothing to improve energy security or lower bills."
Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 24th – 28th November 2023 or 20th – 24th October 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative. Population estimates based on ONS projections of adults aged 18+ for mid-2021 (the latest figures available), i.e. UK 18+ population 53,188,204.