Sunak’s U-turn on insulating regulation illustrative of blasé attitudes to dire housing & energy situation in UK

Sunak’s U-turn on insulating regulation illustrative of blasé attitudes to dire housing & energy situation in UK
Housing in Enfield has become a huge problem in for residents.

Life, for many in the UK, is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Rent has skyrocketed in recent years and rates of ‘no-fault evictions’ have also risen 140% since 2021-22. People are also having to choose between heating their homes and eating with 13.4% of households in fuel poverty. Disappointingly, remedial policies, such as the new energy efficiency rules which  were to enforce tougher heating and insulation standards in private homes, have come under threat. Prime Minister Sunak has looked to prevent the introduction of these rules as landlords lobbied the government indicating an inability to afford such improvements. Renters have told ministers that any delay to the introduction of stricter efficiency regulations will put the health of thousands at risk


The dangers are real and imminent. Of the 13 400 excess deaths between December 2021 and March 2022, 4 020 (this is a disputed figure with some groups claiming that up to 7 500 ismore realistic) were caused by the impact of cold housing, this was a 36% increase of cold-related deaths on the previous year. In 2022, 45 people a-day died in England and Wales due to an inability to heat homes. Many housing unions and campaign groups have criticised the hesitancy to introduce life-saving standards, though Secretary of State for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, has illustrated clear government opposition to their introduction. He stated that his “own view is that we’re asking too much too quickly” and the government is likely to “relax the pace that’s been set for people in the private rental sector”. As energy bills have doubled in the past year, impACT recommends that any proposed policies that will reduce dependence on increasingly expensive utilities and an inefficient use of energy should be snatched up by any government.  The notion that the UK government has sympathised with landlords “facing a big capital outlay” and an lack of investment opportunity over reducing the rapidly rising frequency of cold-related deaths is a rather galling one. Over the past year, articles have flooded papers relaying the plethora of harrowing personal experiences. Jessie, an interviewee from an ITV article in January, described how soaring prices dictate she can only turn the heating on when she’s “really cold” whilst suffering from a chronic lung condition and asthma. This illuminates a worrying reality for many who must wrestle leveraging personal health with financial security. impACT implores the government to consider the realities of it’s own rationality. Surely a truly democratic, modern and free nation does not risk the health and even lives of it’s population to protect landlords and their businesses. With staggering evidence that reducing energy efficiency standards and consumer protections from exorbitant energy costs will put people’s lives at risk, the speed at which the current government has u-turned on efficiency rules should be worrying for many in Britain.


Simultaneously, renting is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult properties difficult to obtain. Average monthly rates outside of London broke records earlier this year, costing £ 1 190. London, too, broke records with the average rental figure hit £2 501 in April. Even those receiving financial assistance still cannot afford rents. Due to frozen housing benefits rates since 2020 paired with rent spikes mean that the number of homes affordable to those receiving housing benefits has almost disappeared. Only 5% of homes on the market can be afforded by beneficiaries down from 23% in April 2020. Council house waiting lists continue to rise whilst councils compete with a deficit in terms of housing. Between 2021-2022, only 6 000 new houses were built with more than 17 000 being sold off and 4 000 demolished. This creates an extensive waiting list for social housing, in June this figure stood at 1.6 million. For many, they will not live long enough to see themselves and family obtain a house, OpenDemocracy reported in 2021 2 300 people died whilst waiting for housing. Even when people are able to obtain a rental contract and pay rents, risk of no-fault evictions are also high. As mentioned, between 2021-2022, no-fault evictions grew an eye-watering 140%. Evicted families rely on the council funding temporary housing in hotels and short-stay businesses. Nicole Bent, mother of a 3-year-old, described to The Guardian that she and her child had been subject to a no-fault eviction, and moved around 8 times inside one hotel over the course of 10 weeks. These temporary solutions are also expensive. Enfield Council, where Bent is based, has the highest number of no-fault evictions and it reportedly costs them £850 000 a month creating a £20m projected deficit. Temporary accommodation figures are staggering. 104 510 households in temporary accommodation at the end of March this year is the highest ever-recorded figure and projections indicate that this figure will only increase on current trajectories. 


Political discussion surrounding the issues of energy and renting in Britain has been characterised by the so-called ‘cost of living crisis’ narrative. This is a notion, which has been perpetuated across institutions and media, that increases in prices, rents and bills are the inevitable consequences of the market or the realities of the contemporary economic conditions. Reports on the suffering of many have highlighted the impact that this has had on Britain, but there is little discussion regarding the realities of inflationary pressures generated by corporate entities. Whilst of course, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine does create inflationary pressures, the record-breaking profit generation from Shell and British Gas is a topic that deserves attention from policymakers on Downing Street. British Gas reported its highest-ever first half profits of almost $1bn and Shell reported $5bn in just the second quarter of this year. It is clear to impACT that aforementioned companies are completely unwilling to pass any of the benefits they are experiencing on to consumers. From this perspective, it is difficult to rationalise soaring energy rates due to ‘increased operational costs’ rather arbitrary price hikes akin to price gouging. impACT implores the government to not only reassess it’s attitudes to the plight of working people in Britain but also their language deployed to describe the problem. Policymakers must attempt to remove ideological biases to cogently deal with this worrying problem, the health of the population must be put before market-based dogmas. Further, as councils like Enfield scramble to plaster over a failing housing market paying for temporary hotel accommodation, providing housing benefits and various financial assistance packages whilst deregulating things like energy standards and creating adverse conditions for renters and ordinary people,  they subsidise the worsening of conditions. impACT implores Sunak, Gove and other cabinet ministers to at least reverse this back-tracking on energy efficiency rules to protect the most vulnerable in our society. As we approach the end of July and projections look increasingly bleak, the government must act now to reduce cold and housing-related excess deaths or at least attempt to reduce the likelihood of these deaths increasing.  


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