At an event in West Bromwich hosted by climate and nature charity Hope for the Future, people came together to craft a community vision to tackle fuel poverty and the energy crisis.
Sandwell has one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country, so policy changes around these issues are urgently needed by local people.
About Hope for the Future
Hope for the Future believes that communication and engagement with elected representatives is the most effective way to make change. They work to equip people with the knowledge and skills to have effective conversations with their MP or councillor, and hope to bring this approach to bear on the energy crisis.
Over the past year, Hope for the Future has run events across the country bringing elected representatives and local residents together. For example, they presented Felicity Buchan MP for Kensington, with the realities of how air pollution is impacting the health and wellbeing of her constituents.
In Oldham, a Bangladeshi women’s group supported by Hope for the Future called on the council’s finance cabinet member to implement a school streets programme to tackle air pollution and emissions from cars, and successfully secured a commitment to a follow-up meeting.
‘Your Voice Heard on the Energy Crisis’ at West Bromwich Community Centre brought together community groups, campaigners and experts, including Eco-Sikh, Aston University Student Union, Acocks Greener, Footsteps, and ACORN. There was zine-making with the South Asian Arts Collective, on the theme of the energy crisis and how to respond to it, and an art installation by Black-led arts and social justice organisation MAIA.
Is retrofitting the solution?
For a year, UK politics has been dominated by rising energy prices. Martin Lewis, once best known for his tips on the Money Saving Expert website, has shot to prominence lambasting politicians and predicting civil unrest. Successive governments have offered loans and subsidies as the price cap has repeatedly increased. According to the IMF, UK households have been impacted more strongly by rising prices than those in any other Western European country.
These are, at best, short-term fixes. The UK’s housing stock is notoriously energy inefficient, and oil and gas prices are at the mercy of global events – most dramatically, the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine. As campaign groups like Warm this Winter and Fuel Poverty Action point out, a big change in approach is needed, with policies to permanently drive down energy costs and usage.
New oil and gas projects are not the solution. Aside from the fact that they will deepen the climate crisis, they take a long time to develop and begin producing. By comparison, renewable energy infrastructure can be up and running much more quickly.
Retrofitting properties, such as by installing insulation, can also help by reducing energy usage. As the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group puts it, insulating homes is a “permanent solution to high energy bills”. The government and local authorities have tried to invest in retrofitting, but found a major barrier in the lack of skilled workers such as retrofit technicians. We may need up to 50,000 retrofit coordinators by 2030. This is something that needs to be urgently addressed.
The impact of the energy crisis on West Bromwich
In West Bromwich, the impacts of the energy crisis have been particularly stark. Around 20% of households in West Bromwich East constituency are classified as being in fuel poverty – much higher than the national average of 13%. Nearly two thirds of homes in the area are not energy efficient, contributing to high bills as well as climate impacts from higher energy usage. This all has serious consequences, with people facing impossible choices between heating and eating.
There’s a lot more everyone could be doing to address these issues. Groups like Warmer Homes West Midlands provide great advice and support for households to reduce usage. Local charities and community groups, including faith organisations, can also help out by providing ‘warm banks’ to help people out. But we also need local and national governments to put in place longer-term policy solutions.
What can be done?
Mayor Andy Street, and the West Midlands Combined Authority, could be doing more on all of this.
One approach to tackling the skills gap, which has already been done in Greater Manchester, would be commissioning a Retrofit Skills Hub to allow local construction workers to learn how to retrofit. As noted above, there is a huge shortfall in retrofit coordinators and technicians, delaying efforts to upgrade the UK’s housing stock.
More could be done with the WMCA’s Zero Carbon Homes Taskforce, such as building homes to Passivhaus standards. There are also ways Sandwell Borough Council could help tackle the energy crisis. For example, encouraging landlords to improve energy efficiency in the private rented sector, as well as using the new Sandwell Plan to make sure future large residential schemes are built to be green.
We need to get everyone’s voices heard to tackle the energy crisis and climate change. That means coming together to put pressure on our elected representatives in the most effective ways possible.
Editor’s note: Hope for the Future is running training sessions this year on how to incite change and communicate the urgency of the energy and climate crisis with local politicians. More details can be found here.