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Improving Energy Efficiency of Homes Could Save the NHS £1 Billion

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The National Insulation Association (NIA) is calling for an ambitious street-by-street home efficiency upgrade programme, which it says could create jobs, boost the battered economy, help deliver net-zero and improve public health.

The trade association is urging the government to spend £2.5 billion over the next five years to transform the UK’s inefficient housing stock. 

In its first year, with £150 million of funding, the proposed Home Upgrade Grant Scheme would deliver deep retrofits of 10,000 low-income homes, outfitting them with insulation and low-carbon heating systems. 

These retrofits would support 470 jobs and save participating households an average of £329 a year on their energy bills. Warmer homes would also boost physical and mental health, saving the NHS £63 million in the first year.

The NIA has suggested the scheme will be best delivered by local authorities, with a street-by-street approach. Low-income households, which are more likely to be inefficient, would be given grants to undertake upgrades, while other households would be incentivised with subsidies.

As the project ramps up, it could ultimately deliver home retrofits for 185,000 homes, creating 8,000 jobs, cutting carbon emissions by 17 million tonnes and saving the NHS £1 billion. 

Cold temperatures at home, caused by fuel poverty and poorly insulated houses, contribute to a range of health problems: increasing the likelihood and severity of colds, flu and other respiratory problems, elevating the risk of strokes and heart attacks by raising blood pressure, exacerbating mental health issues and contributing to death. The NHS is estimated to spend £2.5 billion each year treating health issues arising from cold homes, including expenditures on primary care services, treatment costs, hospital stays and outpatient visits--costs that could be reduced if UK homes were better insulated.

As the UK economy reels from the coronavirus crisis, home energy efficiency upgrades could be just the prescription, the NIA suggested.

Derek Horrocks, chairman of the association, said: “The benefits that come from improving the quality of our homes are substantial on any level but particularly now as we come out of the crisis.

“If we are going to build back better, it is now time to turn promises into action. After being hit hard by the pandemic, the industry is ready and waiting to respond to an increase in demand – but the signal of certainty must first come from the Government.”

However, the government’s commitment to investing in home efficiency upgrades is in doubt. The Conservative Party was elected on a manifesto which pledged to spend £9.2 billion to boost the efficiency of the UK’s homes, schools and hospitals. 

However, specific spending commitments didn’t materialise in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first budget in March. Boris Johnson’s “New Deal” to stimulate the economy, announced yesterday, also neglected home efficiency upgrades. His controversial advisor Dominic Cummings has privately discouraged investment on efficiency, arguing the funds should be allocated to building new homes, the Financial Times reported this week.

But environmental campaigners have cautioned that abandoning efficiency upgrades could jeopardise the UK’s net-zero goal and economic recovery.

Ed Matthew, associate director of climate think tank E3G, said: “Economic experts agree that a programme to insulate homes is one of the best things you can do to stimulate the economy, creating jobs in every part of the country and saving households hundreds of pounds.

“It is also an investment which is mission critical to reach net-zero emissions and can save thousands of lives, with 10,000 people dying every year from living in cold homes.”

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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