Equality and the government’s climate strategies

As a result of our legal challenge, the UK government has admitted to acting unlawfully in its Heat and Building Strategy. Find out why its actions were unlawful, who it impacts and what happens next.
  Published:  11 May 2022    |      3 minute read

After many delays, the long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy was published in October 2021. The strategy outlines how homes and businesses can tackle emissions to reach UK’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The term "net zero" refers to net zero carbon emissions.

Getting to net zero means removing as many emissions as we produce, which is vital if we’re to get a grip on climate breakdown. That includes polluting less and holding big fossil fuel companies to account, as well as re-thinking how we use our land and natural resources.

Pledges within the strategy include finance to help people switch from fossil fuel boilers in their home to cleaner options such as heat pumps, and some additional money for home insulation.

Is it as good as it sounds? Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth’s Head of Science explains:

"Of course this is presented to look fantastic, and with industry backing, but a quick glance reveals it to be quite modest. £450 million pounds delivered via individual £5000 grants means 90,000 heat pump installations over three years, when we need to be installing one million a year.

"Also, the proposed £900 million pounds over 3 years for insulation just won’t drive the scale of energy efficiency needed in both private and rented sectors."

Lack of financial investment isn’t the only fault. In March 2022, Friends of the Earth was given the green light to take our case challenging the government's Heat and Buildings Strategy to the High Court. We challenged the government’s failure to consider the Strategy’s impact on groups such as disabled people, the elderly and people of colour.

We’re delighted that the government agreed with us and is now going back and assessing the impacts of its strategy on these groups to bring it in line with the Equalities Act.

Why is the government’s Heat and Building Strategy unlawful?

When designing the Strategy, the government breached its "public sector equality duty".

The strategy aims to cut emissions from 30 million homes and workplaces. But Friends of the Earth discovered that when devising its strategy, the government hadn’t assessed what impact the strategy might have on vulnerable people. On this basis, the new Heat and Building Strategy breaches equalities laws.

Research shows that cash-strapped people and/or those with protected characteristics – including young people, disabled people, the elderly, and people of colour – are most impacted by the increasing energy bills and poor insulation.

Not considering these people is a real failure on the government’s part.

The government admitted acting unlawfully and agreed to carry out an equality impact assessment of its Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Government action on cost of living

Households throughout the UK are feeling the pressure of rising energy bills, with more than 6 million people being pushed into fuel poverty.

Simon Francis, Co-ordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, urged the government to "set out more ways to better support the elderly, young, disabled and other vulnerable groups through its Heat and Buildings Strategy."

We need the revised strategy to pledge more help to those most in need. This should include:

  • A council-led street by street free loft and cavity wall insulation.
  • Bigger grants to enable low-income households install green energy systems like heat pumps.
  • Financial support and regulations on rental properties for more comprehensive insulation measures to make homes really energy efficient.

These recommendations are key to ending fuel poverty and slashing the UK’s contribution to the climate crisis.

What next?

We’re proud we were able to take action against government’s unlawful treatment of some of society’s most marginalised people. Our legal challenge, led by our lawyers, made the government admit it hadn’t adequately followed equality law when formulating its strategy.

But we can’t stop now. We must make sure the government gets it right. We have a duty to keep the pressure on and ensure the government revises its strategy and considers those who are most disproportionally affected by energy price increases and poor insulation.

We’re currently working with MPs to ask about the new assessment and pushing for the government to consult with organisations representing disabled people, the elderly, young people and people of colour.

We’ll be keeping an eye on developments and will pressure the government to lay plans that support people vulnerable to or experiencing fuel poverty. This’ll be achieved by pushing for things like funding for a council-led, street-by-street programme of free loft and cavity wall insulation.

The transition to a zero-carbon economy must be fair and inclusive and must not worsen existing inequalities in society.

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth Campaigner

Challenging injustice is at the heart of what we do. We have a strong history of striving for environmental justice. We want to create a positive space for society to take action and freely express itself. We’ll continue fighting to hold government accountable. It must do more to help the most vulnerable with soaring energy bills and poor insulation.

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