Failure to widen financial help for a greener future will mean climate goals are missed, says UNISON

Government help to drive energy efficiency is inadequate.

Government help to drive energy efficiency is inadequate, putting greener homes beyond the reach of all but the wealthy, says UNISON in a new report published today (Monday).

Unless substantial progress is made on making sure sustainable homes and vehicles are within reach of those on lower and middle incomes, the UK won’t meet its 2050 net-zero target, the union says.

Without a rethink on financial help and incentives to turbocharge the “painfully slow” progress, the government risks creating an elitist energy economy, according to UNISON’s Gridlock report.

The research, being launched at the union’s annual energy conference taking place in Liverpool later today, says short-term policies and a complex array of ever-changing support packages have left millions of households with insufficient help to meet soaring energy bills.

Most incentives to encourage a switch to greener energy involve considerable upfront costs, meaning that it’s wealthier households – those already better able to cope with higher energy costs – that are most likely to benefit.

In a UNISON survey of public sector workers who own their own homes, conducted for the report, almost four fifths (79%) said they were concerned about climate change and global warming.

More than seven in ten (74%) said they were keen to switch to cleaner energy, but felt they were not being offered enough government support to do so.

For many, the significant costs of switching to greener alternatives to heat homes are unaffordable. More than three quarters (77%) said that even with up to £5,000 available from government grants to upgrade to a modern air-source heat pump, they would be unable to afford the extra £3-5,000 they’d need to finance themselves.

More than half (53%) of the 1,500 who completed the survey said if their current boiler were to break down, they would not be able to replace it if it was beyond repair.

The overwhelming majority (87%) still use gas to heat their homes, and four in ten (41%) said their properties were difficult to heat and often felt cold and draughty.

Just 4% thought government schemes aimed at encouraging the switch to clean energy systems were affordable and aimed at them.

UNISON says by failing to provide clear incentives to drive the green shift, the government has missed an opportunity to reduce bills, particularly for those on lower incomes.

The only way to get the UK back on a net-zero track is improve funding to drive down upfront costs, the union says, otherwise climate goals will never be reached. 

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The UK is in the last-chance saloon.

“Ministers must get to grips with this problem now, not in years to come when it’s too late.

“Those households who can least afford to switch to cleaner energy are the ones needing help the most with their bills.

“What’s needed is a fair system that works for everyone, not just those with the most money. 

“Without a drastic change in tack from government, a greener future is just a distant dream.” 

Notes to editors:
– The Gridlock report examines home heating sources, solar power, efficiencies such as insulation and investment in electric vehicles. The survey was conducted from 23 May and 6 June 2023 and completed by 1,562 UNISON members who own their own homes.
– The report is being launched during UNISON’s conferences at ACC Liverpool from 11 to 16 June. Full details of the conferences can be found here.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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