Last week a group of business leaders published a 10-year plan for COVID recovery. It is rare that I would find myself agreeing with the likes of Shell, Tesco, Heathrow and AstraZeneca but on one point they are spot on – the overriding need to drastically reduce climate emissions from the UK’s homes.

The self-styled Covid Recovery Commission propose a National Deal for Net Zero Homes, with a 15-year path to decarbonising homes, including asking the government to retrofit all social housing by 2030.

Business gets on board

To stress the need for urgency, they quote an energy think tank saying that the number of homes we upgrade every year currently needs to become the number we upgrade every week if we are to get deliver on climate targets.

As you would expect it is business and market focused, with government mostly just stumping up cash. And they haven’t realised the Scottish Government control almost all of this in Scotland. But they have added a strong business voice to the call to get serious about low-carbon, warm homes.

Heating our homes and providing hot water is responsible for at least 15% of Scotland’s climate emissions.  At the same time many of our homes are so inefficient that people are in fuel poverty, struggling to pay the electricity and gas bills.

We can set high standards for new homes – although they still need to be higher – but 80% of current homes are expected to still be with us in 2050, so we need to upgrade these existing buildings.

Slow progress

In 2001 the Scottish Government committed to ending fuel poverty by 2016. There has been a lot of investment in insulating people’s homes and changing heating systems, but still the last official figures showed a quarter of all households in Scotland were in fuel poverty – spending more than 10% of their income on heating. Many children are living in homes which are cold and often damp, to the detriment of their physical and mental health, and their performance at school.

In 2019 a new target passed into law – ending fuel poverty by … 2040.

The spur of improving people’s lives and life chances by making their homes more liveable doesn’t seem to have been enough but fortunately the need to reduce the climate emissions that all these badly insulated, inefficiently heated homes cause is an extra incentive to act.

Add to that the tremendous job creation potential of a major retrofit programme and insulating people’s homes suddenly becomes a winner for people, jobs and the environment.

Creating good, green jobs

As employment declines in the oil and gas industry, a programme of retrofitting people’s homes will create good quality, technical jobs, helping people move from the high-carbon jobs to low-carbon ones. Recent work for the STUC suggests this kind of programme of works could create 60,000 jobs over the next decade.

Whoever you vote for today, the good news is that all the major parties promise lots of action on upgrading people’s homes. Whoever forms the new Scottish Government, take encouragement from this top-line message from business, but perhaps ignore the detail, and make the next five years the time we began a huge transformation of Scotland’s housing.

A version of this blog appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 6th May 2021

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Richard Dixon

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