We must improve the quality of our homes to reduce emissions
The housing crisis and the climate crisis are intrinsically linked – we must tackle them together
Housing is central to solving the climate emergency. Energy use from UK homes accounts for 14% of our total emissions, and if we don’t bring that down our climate change targets will not be met.
The Conservative government’s housing policies have set us back by years in the fight against climate change. Labour is the only major party serious about tackling the climate emergency – including in my brief of housing.
Our homes are not fit for the future. The impact of this, as with the wider climate crisis, is not just ecological. It’s also social. Those who are least well-off feel the biggest impact. Our homes are some of the most inefficient – and therefore most expensive – to heat in Europe. That means we have one of the highest levels of fuel poverty, affecting more than one in 10 households in England, and more than one in five in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The amount of poor-quality housing stock is a big factor. Almost a fifth of households don’t meet the Decent Homes Standard because they are in disrepair, are unsafe, too cold, or have old, unsuitable facilities. That’s over five million families living in dangerous homes with leaking roofs, damp walls, mould, and worse. The housing crisis and the climate crisis: intrinsically linked.
Part of the problem is how old our homes are, with over half built before 1965. Our older homes require double the energy to stay warm when compared to other countries – even those much colder. They are poorly maintained and poorly insulated. Too cold when it’s cold and overheating when it’s warm. When it rains, nearly two million people live at significant risk of flooding.
We’re not adapting our homes at anywhere near the scale or pace we need, despite it being clearly cost-effective to improve housing. Better quality housing means reduced energy usage, a greener planet and better quality of life. Failing to invest simply doesn’t make sense.
Our children will look back in dismay at the apathy shown since 2010. Labour’s zero carbon homes scheme and many other important policies have been weakened or altogether abandoned. Efforts to insulate homes have ground to a halt. Building standards are woefully inadequate and hardly enforced.
We can and must do better. Labour will re-introduce our objective for new homes to have a zero carbon standard. We will kickstart the biggest housebuilding programme in over 30 years, building homes that are energy and water efficient, and climate resilient. We’ll retrofit existing homes to meet high standards. Our ‘Decent Homes 2’ programme will improve our housing stock to help cut emissions, cut fuel poverty, and improve the health of our families and our economy.
Under Labour, local authorities will have the financial backing they need to make good, green housing the norm. To make this happen we’ll be reversing policy failures that have left us with a critical skills shortage in the construction industry, creating thousands of high-skilled, green jobs.
We have the technology and information to create climate-friendly, climate-adapted homes. Labour has the plans to make it happen. We need a Labour government now to make our green transformation a reality.
Sarah Jones is Labour MP for Croydon Central and shadow minister for housing
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