The Energy, Environment & Rural Affairs Minister last week updated AMs on the Welsh Government’s programme to improve energy efficiency in the home and tackle fuel poverty.
The Minister, Lesley Griffiths, told AMs that, to date, the Welsh Government two energy efficiency programmes – Nest and Arbed – have provided 112,000 people with energy advice and retrofitted 50,000 homes. Without this, she estimated 80,000 households would’ve struggled with their energy needs.
It’s hoped a further 25,000 homes will be improved under the programmes by 2021, but the Minister accepted more needs to be done.
The minister said: “The investment made in improving the energy efficiency of Welsh homes, together with our ongoing investment to implement the Welsh quality housing standard in the social housing sector, has had a positive impact.
“The result of the latest Welsh housing conditions survey reports the average energy performance certificate rating of homes in Wales in this latest survey is at band D, compared to the average band E rating in 2008.
“However, despite our efforts, the number of people struggling to maintain a safe and warm home during the winter remains stubbornly high.”
A new plan to tackle fuel poverty is due to be published at a conference in 2020 and will be out for consultation in autumn 2019.
Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM, said the latest estimates were that 23% of all households in Wales – around 291,000 homes – were in fuel poverty, while the number of excess winter deaths was at the highest rate in Wales of all of the UK’s nations and regions.
He said: “….whilst we know that energy inefficiency is a contributing factor to fuel poverty, this alone won’t solve the problem. A new strategy is needed, outlining a more joined-up approach by Welsh Government, local authorities, housing associations, advice and health services, as well as other public and voluntary organisations in society.”
The Minister confirmed that a cold weather plan will be included as part of the new fuel poverty strategy. In the meantime – and as a stopgap measure – the Welsh Government made funding available to cover the call-out costs of vulnerable people when they had heating problems.
Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) said the scale of the programmes didn’t properly reflect the scale of the challenge facing Wales; at the current rate of progress, it would take Wales 48 years to fully eradicate fuel poverty. At the 2016 election, Plaid Cymru proposed a £3billion retrofitting programme, but the Welsh Government had only spent around £250million over the last 10 years.
“….this Government is spending £25 million-per-year on tackling fuel poverty when it’s costing the NHS £100 million a year to deal with its consequences,” said Mr Gruffydd.
“And, of course, that £100 million doesn’t include the cost of tackling the respiratory consequences of living in a cold and damp home, the mental health consequences of fuel debt etc.
“So, what does it say about how seriously this Government is taking its obligations….when your response to the fuel poverty crisis in Wales is, frankly, so inadequate?”
Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) warned that fuel bills could rise after Brexit, coupled with the negative impact of austerity. On the flip side, UKIP’s Neil Hamilton said EU rules were to blame for high energy prices while pursuing carbon reduction targets in energy generation was counter-productive because of China and India.
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