Shea Jones discusses how the Well Being of Future Generations Bill can help tackle fuel poverty in Wales.
How do you picture how our planet will look in the future and how future generations will live on our planet in years to come? Some people might think about hoverboards, power laces and all the other exciting things that we see Marty McFly involved in during the classic ‘Back to the Future’ films. Admittedly, I do think about this when I think about the future but I also think about the bigger picture – how we treat the planet now and how we must do what we can to ensure that we do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This includes using natural resources reasonably, ensuring that life is not negatively impacted by harmful modifications of the ecosystems and that scientific and technological progress in all fields do not harm life on Earth.
This week on Click on Wales
The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill was discussed by the full assembly on Tuesday after the environment committee voted to drop large parts of the bill but rejected sections intended to replace them in February.
This week on Click on Wales we are running a series of articles on the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill looking at what we’ve got and how it can be improved.
Fuel poverty (defined as households spending 10% or more of their income on energy costs) affected 30% of households in Wales in 2012 and is now likely to be significantly higher. Fuel poverty is a significant cause of excess winter deaths and in 2013/14, there were 1,100 excess winter deaths in Wales. The majority (73%) were over the age of 75 (we know that around 30% of these deaths can be attributed to cold homes). Low incomes, energy prices and the number of energy inefficient properties act as the main contributory factors to rising levels of fuel poor households and they make the eradication of fuel poverty a real challenge.
Despite much welcomed investment from energy efficiency programs such as ARBED, the current investment in Wales is insufficient given the scale of the problem. Estimates in a Bevan report on poverty states that it will take 78 years for the Welsh Government’s Nest programme to reach each and every home suffering from fuel poverty in Wales. More needs to be done to ensure that vulnerable households are paying the lowest possible price for their home energy needs.
Housing is responsible for around one fifth of Welsh greenhouse gas emissions. WWF Cymru’s report, ‘Cutting carbon emissions in Welsh homes’, showed that targeting home improvements at the poorest quality houses in Wales would slash energy bills, cut fuel poverty by 40%, reduce our impact on climate change and create thousands of jobs. This would take us well on our way to meeting our climate emission reduction targets of 40% by 2020. Reducing our energy usage and delivering energy efficiency programmes needs to happen alongside switching to renewable / low carbon energy sources, as outlined in WWF’s report ‘Warm Homes Not Warm Words’, although barriers to renewable energy (e.g. the planning system) need to be addressed and Wales needs further energy powers to be devolved for energy planning consents.
A large scale energy efficiency programme much bigger than what we currently have is essentially sustainable development in action. How could this be financed? There have been suggestions of using borrowing powers for energy efficiency programmes rather than funding controversial stretches of motorways, for example. Perhaps a less controversial way to boost investment would be to fund more energy efficiency retrofit works, as well as the amount of energy that we generate through renewable technologies via infrastructure investments through the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP). Of course, we need to maximise the positive impacts of investment and the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Bill, if designed effectively, provides an ideal opportunity to achieve this. Infrastructure investments should be benchmarked for their environmental impact and WIIP provides a significant opportunity to ensure that large capital projects fulfil sustainable development criteria at every level from carbon impact to community benefit.
A strong and effective Well-being of FG Act should make sure that investment from public bodies has real positive impacts and ensures that all purchasing decisions are made with consideration of wider benefits for people and nature, in Wales and around the world. ARBED has shown how a programme can be designed to deliver real benefits to local economies. Evidence suggests that, without an explicit legal requirement, it is unlikely that good-practice procurement policy will be implemented and inconsistencies will continue. Community Housing Cymru’s member organisations (housing associations) spent an estimated £1,027m in 2013/14, and £823.6m (80%) of this spend was retained in Wales. Of the completed Community Benefits Measurement Tools returned to Welsh Government, 52% have come from the housing sector.
However, we propose that further work is done to develop the community benefits tool into a legal requirement that ensures public bodies consider the broader environmental, social and economic impact of their procurement activities. We should promote ethical, fair trade and sustainable procurement practices through the Bill which meet the social justice and equality needs of the citizens of Wales. This includes the impacts of supply chains in Wales and abroad and the ability to use local suppliers and installers, which is key to keeping money in the Welsh economy. For example, i2i’s Can Do Toolkit provides guidance to social landlords to help them achieve added value and wider social inclusion through their improvement and investment programmes, in the areas of targeted recruitment and training and SME-friendly procurement. Between September 2008 and December 2011, i2i calculated that this work led to the creation of 2,581 job and training opportunities. The CHC Group supports the continued development of the Can Do Toolkit and its extended application across the public sector in Wales.
Prevention and integration principles clearly need to be at the heart of the Wellbeing of FG Bill. For example, ‘Boiler prescription’ schemes exist in England whereby housing associations install boilers in households prescribed by GPs. One of these schemes has resulted in savings to the NHS with a 28% reduction in GP appointments and a 33% reduction in outpatient appointments. It is one of the first examples of the NHS supporting retrofit schemes in order to reduce the cost of health and social services but such schemes need to be valued more by the government and the health sector. CHC is working closely with organisations in Wales to develop similar approaches. Other schemes such as the ‘Warm homes healthy people fund’ show a clear example of the Department of Energy and Climate Change working with the Department of Health in the UK Government.
Legislation is needed to drive change at the necessary scale and pace. It should also be viewed as an opportunity to help create the future we want to see for Wales. With amendments to the Well-Being of Future Generations Bill, we can make it stronger together and transform the way we do things in Wales.