Join Fuel Poverty Action and National Pensioners Convention: 26 November 12pm, George V’s statue, Old Palace Yard Westminster
As always at this time of year, FPA will be joining with pensioners’ organisations to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”. Each year in the UK around 10,000 people die because they cannot afford to heat their homes. That figure is from before the pandemic and it’s likely to be still higher now: Covid and cold homes do not go well together. FPA will join with the National Pensioners Convention and speak at the event on 26 November to mark these tragic, desperate, and avoidable deaths.
We will demand action. There is no shortage of money to help us keep warm:
Oil corporations, internationally, are returning exceptional profits on the spoils of the extra high prices we are paying. During COP26 FPA wrote to its President, Alok Sharma, demanding a windfall tax on this money — to be used to relieve fuel poverty.
This spring, the government closed down early the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme, which was supposed to help UK householders insulate our homes. But the National Audit Office found it was “botched” and collapsed after just six months. The money has not been replaced.
30 UK millionaires are asking for their billions to be used to support people who are struggling to survive. They have told the chancellor, “We know where you can find that money – tax wealth holders like us.”
A wealth tax on the richest 1% of households in Britain – those with fortunes in the excess of £3.6m – could create at least an additional £70 billion a year — a huge sum, around the same as the US$100 bn a year that all the rich nations together claimed they couldn’t find to support frontline countries to adapt to climate change!
Within a few miles of the obscene wealth of private individuals who have profited from contracts and price hikes during the pandemic, are millions of UK families and pensioners going to bed hungry or shivering in the cold. Families are rationing gas, electricity, and heating, sometimes to an hour or less a day. Children are unable to study, or play. Parents don’t know how they will get through the winter. Almost every health condition is exacerbated by cold. And people who are old, disabled, homeless, or suffering from a long term illness, are at risk of death.
Deaths from fuel poverty in this wealthy country are an obscenity. They’re a result of deliberate policies on housing, fossil fuels, pensions, benefits, taxes, and wages. This cannot be allowed to stand.
JOIN THE PROTEST
Friday 26 November 2021, Midday. Please bring banners and publicise the event so that we have a good attendance. If you can help with a portable sound system, please let us know!
Assemble by George V’s statue at Old Palace Yard Westminster opposite the House of Lords.Then march to 10 Downing Street where a letter will be handed in.
Speakers include TUC President Sue Ferns, Lord Prem Sikka, and Ruth London from Fuel Poverty Action.
We are run by a small team of volunteers. In January, we brought on Maddy Winters – a campaigner with a decade of cold home experience, for ten hours a week at £15/hour. This underpins everything our wider group does unpaid. We will use your donations to extend this employment.
We are in more demand than ever. Over three million people in the UK live in fuel poverty and up to 140,000 households are being added each day to the list of families forced to choose between heating and eating.
Promote our crowdfunder in your networks – share the link: crowdfunder.co.uk/fuelpovertyaction, retweet us, share our Facebook post, with your own endorsement or click the links below:
The Winter Fuel Payment is a tax free payment of £100 – £300 paid each autumn to people aged over 66. It is a life-saver for many pensioners who are struggling to keep warm. But some people who get it don’t feel they need it, and want to pass it on. If that’s you, there are loads of ways to do that through charities (on the web, see “donate winter fuel payment”) — or you could consider giving all or part of it to FPA’s crowdfunder!
IF, HOWEVER, YOU ARE STRUGGLING TO KEEP THE HEAT ON, HERE ARE SOME SOURCES OF ADVICE AND HELP:
You may qualify for fuel vouchers, through the Fuel Bank Foundation, CItizens Advice, your local authority or elsewhere.
The crisis you are in is not your fault. GET HELP!
Join us! Winter Deaths Protest on 26 November with FPA and National Pensioners Convention
As always at this time of year, FPA will be combining with pensioners’ organisations to mark the release of statistics on “excess winter deaths”, and the thousands who die each year because they can’t afford to heat their homes. The statistics are less reliable than ever this year, in the time of Covid-19, but the number of deaths is bound to be even greater: imagine having Covid in a cold home! FPA will join with the National Pensioners Convention and speak at the event on 26 November. If you’d like to do more to mark this day, and to highlight the pain and suffering of cold homes, even for those who do not die from them, let us know!
JOIN THE PROTEST
Friday 26 November 2021, Midday Assemble by George V’s statue at Old Palace Yard Westminster opposite the House of Lords.Then march to 10 Downing Street
Please bring banners and try and publicise locally so that we have a good attendance. Speakers invited include Frances O’Grady TUC, Lord Prem Sikka and Ruth London Fuel Poverty Action.
For a whole decade we’ve been advising, campaigning, and joining with dozens of other organisations – from tenants and residents associations to climate campaigns – to organise for change. As well as supporting people in crisis, we will continue to press the government for real solutions: liveable incomes, affordable, climate-friendly energy, and safe, warm housing.
To celebrate this milestone, we got together on Zoom to share memories and play games. As well as look to the future. You can watch the event here.
Thank you to everyone who attended and made this such a special gathering.
Where is the money going?
The huge rise in energy prices this autumn follows on from a previous increase last April and there is another rise expected next spring. Millions of people do not know how in the world they will survive the winter, with household finances already stretched to breaking point and further cuts to benefits, pensions and public services. While the government has rowed back to a degree on the Universal Credit cut for people who are in waged work, the full £20 per week cut is in effect for mothers at home looking after young children, and people with coping with disabilities who cannot manage a waged job on top of that. (Both are working!)
Meanwhile oil companies have been making a killing in profits, and planning to invest their takings in dividends for shareholders and further investment in fossil fuel extraction, exploration and development — just as the world acknowledges that the climate is on a knife-edge, threatening everything we hold dear. FPA have been demanding resources for — quickly, safely, and accountably — making our homes energy efficient, and rebalancing the energy pricing system so that it is no longer those who have least, and who use least energy, who pay the highest price for what they need. That is now more urgent than ever.
In the middle of COP26 with two of our members up in Glasgow, FPA wrote to Alok Sharma demanding that the huge profits now being made by Big Oil should not be invested in shareholders pockets, or in further drilling for fossil fuels. Instead they should be used to relieve fuel poverty, and accomplish the urgent switch away from these unaffordable, unsustainable source of energy. We called for a swingeing windfall tax on the super-profits now rolling into the industry — and an end to subsidies from the public purse. According to the International Monetary Fund, governments spent $450bn in direct subsidies for the fossil fuel industry!
We have been on the news!
FPA has been called on continuously by the media and we have been happy to use this platform, ranging from the Financial Times and Women’s Hour, to small local papers, the Daily Express, the Mail, the Morning Star. We’ve had regular live appearances on Sky and other TV stations, were interviewed on LBC,and have reached further afield via Reuters, Bloomberg, and Euronews. We’ve done interviews with journalists and tv stations from France, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea as well as the UK and international agencies and publications like Reuters and Bloomberg. Another major part of our role has been helping to put journalists from the UK and round the world in touch with people in fuel poverty who want to speak out about their own situation and that of their families and neighbours, including FPA members like Diane.
We have been working with Insulate Britain and Action on Empty Homes
As well as publicly supporting the Insulate Britain campaign we have worked to make available to them the experience and perspectives accumulated in our 10 years of campaigning for insulation, emphasising the need for it to be safe, non-toxic, and non-flammable, for it to be installed in a way that is fully accountable to residents, and for the costs of insulation and of rising prices of fossil fuels to be borne by those responsible for climate change, not people struggling to pay their bills (contributions partly reflected in IB’s “Technical Summary“)
We have also highlighted the issue of insulation with the campaign against empty homes, with Ruth London speaking at Action on Empty Homes’ highly successful rally and day of action on 9 October, suggesting that owners of homes left empty should be required to undertake a deep retrofit — much easier while no one is living in the building! – and then make them available for residents of other homes being retrofitted with insulation and new heating systems to decant into while their homes are a building site. See below re another event coming up on 11 November.
Our many media appearances this autumn have helped call attention to the scandal of empty homes and the UK’s appallingly leaky, ill-repaired and poorly insulated housing.
We’re releasing a song! Can you help?
Calling all our supporters with links to the music industry – we need help releasing a Fuel Poverty themed single – written and recorded by one of our supporters! Can you help guide us to releasing a single? Get in touch on [email protected].
The Coalition has also been pressing for priority for people in fuel poverty in the EU’s “Renovation Wave”.
And it has been working out demands on energy pricing and taxes to relieve the devastating effects of rising gas prices while still not increasing state subsidies of fossil fuels. That last discussion in particular, FPA has played a major part in. It is ongoing. If you’d like to contribute to it, please let us know!
“If you’re a bit strapped for cash, you only need £345 plus VAT for a seat in the standard zone, a three-course dinner, half a bottle of wine, and a reception drink upon arrival. £4,495 plus VAT on the other hand will get you …a magnum of chilled champagne on arrival, followed by 10 bottles of beer, 5 bottles of premium wine, a three-course dinner, premium chocolates gifts on each place setting.“
Together with people from Peabody, Clarion, OHG and many other so-called social housing providers,who have been organising and winning in their fight for acceptable housing, we’ll have more fun in the street!
FPA’s new Dossier published 3 April brings out in the open the sense of impunity, the buck-passing, and the dazzling incompetence that have made “home” a place of nightmares for tenants of a social landlord. It details tenants’ battle for affordable heat and accountability and how they have managed to win – so far – a reduction of their tariff by one half. It also explores the complexities of heat network (or “district heating”) pricing and the position of social housing tenants on a private, mostly leaseholder, estate.
With heat networks and housing developments like this one becoming more and more common, the new Dossier serves as a warning, a guide to needed changes, and a handbook for action for the growing number of residents affected by unaccountable heating and housing systems.
You can read the press release for the dossier below. For the full report see here.
Press Release (EMBARGOED till 00.00 4 April)
Fuel Poverty Action is today publishing a remarkable exposé showing how families have been left in the cold because their unaffordable heat network and their social housing tenancies have created a legal limbo. For their heating, they are tied to one supplier, but they have no control of prices, no contract, no legal rights, and no one to complain to. This crisis has been created by a toxic – but increasingly common – mix of unaccountable housing and unaccountable heating. The tenants have led a long fight for affordable warmth and against the odds, have won major price reductions.
Phoenix Works is a new build development in Tower Hamlets with 28 ”affordable rent” tenants housed by Peabody housing association(1). When they moved in, tenants “couldn’t believe” what their prepayment meters were consuming. Many simply could not pay the up to £250 a month required to keep warm. Some had to move out and stay with relatives, some got ill, some went deeply into debt. Meanwhile their landlord and heat provider passed the buck to each other, displaying a sense of impunity, and dazzling incompetence.
The tenants’ heat is provided by a “Heat Network”. Heat networks are like central heating for a whole estate, and are being heavily promoted and subsidised by the government on the grounds that they offer a low-carbon alternative(2). Customers of a Heat Network cannot switch, nor is there any price cap or, as yet, any regulation. Assessed as eligible for “affordable housing”, the ex-council tenants had no warning of the extra costs, and no heat contract. They could not even find out who was responsible for their heating and tariffs: the estate management, KFH, or their social landlord, Peabody?
Ms Lewis, who has led the fight for affordable heating at Phoenix Works says,
“Peabody can’t escape responsibility for allowing tenants to suffer. Some have had to choose between heating homes and feeding families during winter months, all because of the lack of information and accountability from the very beginning. Do we have to just put up and shut up with whatever charges KFH decide to throw at us? We would never have chosen to live this way had we been given the choice.”
Ruth London from FPA says,
“Cold kills. 10,000 people die each winter in the UK because they can’t afford to heat their homes. And that was the number before a respiratory pandemic!
Heat Networks are supposed to provide low carbon, low cost, reliable heat. But FPA work with residents in many such estates who are fighting huge bills, constant heating breakdowns, or both.The sheer unaccountability of both heating and housing management has never been more blatant than at Phoenix Works.”
With Fuel Poverty Action(3), tenants are calling for a public inquiry to uncover what has happened and what structural and legal changes are needed to prevent it happening anywhere again.
Tenants from Phoenix Works are available for interview. Also available are residents from other heat network estates in Tower Hamlets and all over London who are suffering from high prices or frequent outages, both of which can leave households without either heat or hot water.
As well as Fuel Poverty Action, the Phoenix Works tenants have won support from SHAC, who contributed to the dossier, from the Heat Networks team at BEIS ([email protected]), and from their MP, Apsana Begum.
The Dossier is published HERE on our website or you can download a PDF here.
New developments are required to set aside a proportion of flats for “affordable housing”. Rents in these lower standard apartments are up to 80% of market rates, which in some places, like London, can be extremely high, and tenants may face lower standards and “poor doors”. Most of the other residents are leaseholders.
Heat networks pipe heat into homes from a communal gas boiler. Also known as “District Heating”, this system are said to save carbon emissions by being more efficient than gas boilers, by producing electricity at the same time as heat if using a central “Combined Heat and Power” boiler, and because they have the potential to use renewable or waste heat sources instead of combustion. But where systems are badly designed, installed, or maintained, residents can go cold, and carbon savings in practice can be nil.
Fuel Poverty Action is a grassroots organisation started in 2011, which since 2017 has been supporting residents all over London who are organising for reliable and affordable heat from their heat networks. In 2017 we published Not Fit For Purpose, a report on the heat network on Myatts Field North, which is now being pressed into service again by residents there. Our many consultation responses on the issue can be found here.
It’s been a long, hard winter, and we hope you’re all well. Here’s the latest news from FPA:
On 5 February Ofgem announced their price cap increase, meaning a hefty rise in costs for everyone on default energy tariffs (and a likely rise in fixed tariffs as well, when they come due). Ruth London was on BBC TV News all day, with a substantial slot connecting issues from insulation and cladding to universal credit, pensions and homeschooling – and the need for a total reset because what we have now is killing us:
Check it out on Youtube. We also got a short bit on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and a statement in Energy Live News. We’re glad to have a chance to comment, with the UK’s already holey safety net just a memory, and now with wages so low and in the middle of a pandemic, any increase in energy prices must come with immediate changes in our resources.
At the same time however, we’ve been hard at work as usual on heat networks, on insulation and cladding, on pensioners’ health and standard of living, and have pitched in on issues of heat pumps, regeneration, fracking, and more.
A “heat network” works like central heating for a whole block, estate, or district.
We’re working with Peabody tenants in a new build Tower Hamlets development, Phoenix Works. They have been battling sky high tariffs – and have won a reduction by one half!We’ll shortly be making this public, so watch this space. They are still fighting to get a full refund of their overpayment, secure a better tariff for the future, get repairs done promptly, get better heat controls,and above all to make the heat provider accountable to them – which at present, they are not.
Oval Quarter, Lambeth, where FPA was heavily involved in bringing heat provider E.ON toaccount, is again having serious problems with unreliability. We’re back working with them after a gap of several years, following publication of our report on that heat network, Not Fit for Purpose in 2017.
New Festival Quarter & St Clements
We’re also working with two other Tower Hamlets heat networks – at New Festival Quarter and at St Clements, where residents have long been fighting scandalous charges, and other issues including insulation and cladding. We recently organised a meeting for residents from all three developments to meet together with their MP, Apsana Begum. On 4 February Ms Begum committed to taking their issues forward with the council, the GLA, the heat provider and landlords, and in parliament.
In Southwark, the battle continues to get heat networks in working order – and in the meantime to win compensation so that when they are not working, residents at least can afford to use space heaters to keep warm. Despite all the efforts of residents, Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, and FPA the council’s assurances that “no one will be out of pocket” have not been fulfilled. We’re told there will finally be a policy of automatic compensation of £3 per day, starting in April this year. In the meantime the suffering – and the health costs – are unbearable. See the account in Inside Housing. People in cold homes are taking to twitter to raise concerns of their council home without heating, or one of a relative. One tweets: “OAPs in block Clifton Estate SE15 fed up with communal heating ALWAYS going off EVERY year during COLDEST spells” . Last week another tweeter asked: “if someone dies from a cold home, is this corporate manslaughter?”
Broken promises on national Covid protection
In May 2020, many heat providers signed an Agreement to ensure that heat network customers were protected and supported during the COVID pandemic, to prevent disconnections and cold. The latest monitoring report, by the Heat Trust, finds:
“rising numbers of disconnections from some suppliers during the coldest part of the year, low reconnection rates and declining levels of support given to pre-payment meter customers. Heat Trust is also concerned at failures of some suppliers to keep to the terms of the Agreement and report on their activities.”
Between persistent outages and unbearable prices
Unregulated, unaccountable and uncaring heat providers are likely to have deaths on their accounts this Covid winter, despite widespread and determined efforts. We will never know how many.
Residents of Pendleton Together’s high rise towers in Salford are taking their landlord to court over fire risks, maintenance, ineffective heating through NIBE heat pumps, and the freezing temperatures they are enduring now that their cladding has finally been removed. Read FPA member Graeme Langton’s account here. And see here a write up in Manchester Evening News, exposing the terrible cold that Pendleton residents are facing this winter. A group of Pendleton residents plus a reporter from the Salford Star led a breakout group at our December conference Making Green Come True. So far, Pendlton Together seem to disregard all public disclosure of what they are imposing on their residents.
In the last few days, and in the same week that the fire risks at Pendleton were highlighted in the Grenfell inquiry, the fire door through which residents would escape the building has been left broken and unusable. Residents were not even informed or given any alternative evacuation plan.
Pembroke Park, Hillingdon – light at the end of the tunnel
There is finally good news from this estate, where FPA has been supporting residents for many years. After years of pressure from residents, and the changing climate post-Grenfell, a new estate management has decided to do something about the fact that the estate was built by Taylor Woodrow in 2010 with its insulation missing. Tenant Tracey Rogers wrote in, in January to tell us:
“after 10 years of being cold, A2 sent 4 people around today to investigate my moans. The outcome is my house has no insulation, my sons room has to have all the walls and ceiling removed, the insulation in the loft had all fallen down (what little was there) I have to be moved out of my property for at least 6 weeks. So yes I have been literally heating the street. My next battle will be compensation.”
Tracey later got back in touch to tell us that her home was a building site, the workmen wear no masks, no alternative accommodation was offered and her daughter and grandchildren, who live with her, have had to move out and find somewhere to live for six weeks in the middle of a pandemic.
There are still many residents in Pembroke Park whose homes are not being insulated at all, and who have no idea when or if they will be.
Regeneration, embodied carbon, communities and fuel poverty
In January we worked with others at the Radical Housing Network to formulate questions to mayoral and GLA candidates on embodied carbon and other environmental effects of regeneration, also touching on rent control, and the use of empty homes. This was following taking part in their meeting about Lambeth’s on Central Hill estate, where people have been camping to prevent demolition of a close community as part of a regeneration scheme. Early in the morning of 10 February, demolition workers arrived outside Truslove House, sparking a demolition resistance action. Police initially left the occupation alone, but the Council called a Gold Command meeting and at its request the police returned (20+ police with vans) to clear the occupation and cordon off the site. The resistance saw 25 people attending over 6 hours. The campaign will continue.
Many of these housing and heating issues will be raised at Homes for All’s “Housing and Health Emergency” summit, Saturday 20th of February. Some of us from FPA will be taking part in the SHAC workshop exploring how housing workers and housing association residents have worked together to get results. Other workshops include one focusing on evictions, disrepair, rents, Grenfell, health and poverty. It will all be on Zoom. Do come along and let us know if there’s something you would like discussed. You can register here.
We are in communication with Plastics Rebellion about running a session on Plastics in Construction at their weekly Tuesday evening Zoom.
We hope to talk about the widespread and very large-scale use of plastic as a building material, specifically for insulation and cladding. This led directly to the Grenfell fire, as FPA laid out at the time here. The Grenfell connection could add a pointed message to the plastics campaign.
We have consistently raised issues of heating and insulation at meetings and conferences in the housing movement. As Suz Muna of Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) told us, regarding their 28 January housing safety conference:
“we’ll be happy to have you speak at the conference. Your group raises an often hidden and silent health hazard, but one which blights many lives.”
Similarly, On 19 January we attended and contributed to the launch of The London Tenants’ Manifesto on the right to warm, and affordably warm, safe and healthy housing. We tweeted out the Manifesto here.
On 27 January we joined forces with South East London Community Energy (SELCE) to speak at Lewisham Pensioners Forum Annual Health Fayre on ‘How to Take Action on Fuel Poverty’.
We have also put people who want to speak out in touch with the media, and have done extensive briefing of members of the press on fuel poverty (eg. for the Mirror’s current campaign), and on housing issues that leave residents cold (eg. for Inside Housing and the Building Centre). After contact with another journalist last year, we received a copy of her final report on incinerators, which are often a heat source for district heating, but a pollution source for miles around. Josephine Moulds dissects their low carbon credentials and the pricing of these schemes.
For several years FPA has been supporting residents of nine tower blocks, run by Pendleton Together on behalf of Salford Council, and several tenants took part in our December conference, Making Green Come True. The blocks all had cladding identical to Grenfell Tower’s, and many other similar dangers. This autumn, after years of tenants enduring life in a tinderbox, the cladding was finally removed – in time to leave them without insulation in a freezing winter, in the middle of a pandemic. To make matters worse, many of the flats are heated by NIBE heat pumps which are simply too expensive to run.
Now the tenants have banded together to take their landlords to court, and Rowan Rose solicitors have been gathering the bountiful evidence of illegality. Graeme Langton, tenant in one of the Pendleton Together tower blocks and an FPA member writes:
Adding Insult to Injury
127 Tenants living in the 9 tower blocks in Salford affected by dangerous cladding, faulty windows, NIBE heating systems that are too expensive to run, fire doors unfit for use, etc., have signed up to litigation action against Salford City Council and their housing managers Pendleton Together. They claim that their properties are unfit for human habitation.
Now Salford City Council, at a meeting next week, are set to approve rent increases for all properties of 1.5% (Consumer Price Index + 1%). Not only have tenants’ debts increased due to spiralling heating costs, but their anxiety and mental health issues have increased, living in fear of their surroundings.
Yet public records show that the Chief Executive for Salford City Council pocketed a total package of £243,707 during the financial year 2018/19 compared to £198,290 the previous year. A whopping rise of over £45,000. Add this to the many Section 106 payments and planning fees waived by the council, together with no affordable housing provision and the £25,000 a week spent on Fire Marshalls, these rent and service charge increases only add insult to injury.
Are you wondering who you’ll meet at the conference? Check-out our See Who You’ll Meet pack! Here you’ll find photos and bios of our 18 speakers and breakout room leaders as well as a list of key organisations.
We are very excited to share our Making Green Come True conference pack! Find our final agenda, breakout room information, speaker and contributor bios, ‘virtual stalls’ with resources from conference attendees, and more! There are new timings and exciting developments within — check it out!
The following essay was first published by the Ecologist under a Creative Commons 4.0 licence. FPA’s Alexa Waud writes about insulation, retrofit, #MakingGreenComeTrue, and strengthening our demands
Making green come true: What’s keeping the green promise of housing retrofit from becoming a reality?
When I was preparing to move to the UK from Canada in 2017 I was repeatedly warned of the cold. Coming from a country where wind chill factors pull the winter temperature down to –30 ºC, these words of caution came as a surprise. “The dampness gets to your bones,” my friends and colleagues told me, “and worst of all, you can’t escape it. Homes in the UK have no insulation.” Then, just in advance of my move, Grenfell tower caught fire, its flames fuelled by toxic cladding. These parallel warnings – of decaying buildings and decaying accountability – made clear: many UK homes weren’t insulated, and when they were, it could be deadly.
In the last three years, the words insulation, cladding and energy efficiency retrofit have received increasing air-time. Echoing in Kensington’s community halls and broadcast as part of Green New Deal programming, they’ve found their way onto the agenda of building safety meetings and into the advice offerings of energy efficiency caseworkers. In these different settings, the words insulation, cladding and retrofit conjure up vastly different images. In the eyes of some, they are causing burning buildings and in the eyes of others preventing a burning planet. Some people see their potential in shaving a few pounds off unpayable energy bills. For others, the potential impact is less desirable: damaged health by toxic materials. These visions need not be at odds – homes that are safe for people and the planet are possible – and yet, these conversations are remarkably disconnected.
The grassroots campaign group Fuel Poverty Action, of which I am a part, has a unique perspective on these issues. Emerging from Climate Camp in 2011, our approach to climate organising has always addressed the challenges of affordability and accountability to residents head on.
At times, this is challenging. In late 2018, I remember listening to a Grenfell survivor’s impassioned speech to his community. “They are going to try to put insulation in your flats,” he said to the audience, “never let them!” At the same time, Fuel Poverty Action was working with tower block residents across the UK to get safe insulation on their buildings in an effort to protect against fuel poverty and deaths from cold.
Six months later we were feeding into Green New Deal drafts, calling for widespread retrofit to tackle climate change on a scale that matched the problem. Meanwhile, victims of bad retrofits were telling us how poor ventilation, damp, and mould ruined their health. And yet, others were telling us of a child at death’s door in a freezing new-build flat where the landlords had simply omitted insulation. Private renters also shared their fear of insulation. They wanted its warmth, cost saving and environmental benefits, but were afraid their already too high rents would rise further.
One such renter wrote to us,
“The man who came today to check the electrics told me I should have insulation and my landlord should do it for me, but I don’t know… My rent might go up and I can’t afford it. Particularly as a women pensioner. Because of all the discrimination we didn’t earn enough and we could never afford a mortgage. I know when I burn gas I’m burning fossil fuels and I’m very concerned about that. But I couldn’t use electricity. I wouldn’t be able to pay for it.”
Private renter, Kensington and Chelsea
It’s hard work to forge a path forward that takes account of these complex, and often conflicting, concerns. It means challenging the visions of the mainstream and even the leftist climate movements by grounding energy efficiency in people’s lives. It means prioritising existing, everyday struggles and building-up climate solutions from there. It means engaging in the unfolding debate seriously, and creating space for others to engage as well.
The Making Green Come True conference
To this end, Fuel Poverty Action is hosting a conference with the Trade Union Congress LESE pensioners network on December 5th, called ‘Making Green Come True’.
The event will bring together people who are fighting for insulation and people who are fighting against it. We’ll hear from those who know action on climate change is already coming too late, and those who know proper training takes time. Victims of bad retrofits will meet with trade unionists who have plans to fill the performance gap by fighting for high quality jobs in which high quality work can be completed.
Social housing tenants will discuss real questions with which they’ve been grappling. For example, one person registered for the conference asks,
“What do you do when you ask your social landlord to insulate and upgrade the environmental sustainability of your home – reducing your bills, but providing more warmth and using less fossil fuels – and they send an advisor who gives you a thermal blanket, gloves and a new gas boiler? So far, they do not appear to be interested in the urgent and imperative need to reduce carbon emissions from existing homes.”
Social housing tenant, Hackney
The conference slogan reads, ‘It isn’t green if it doesn’t work. It isn’t true if it isn’t affordable’. We will weave these lessons into the fabric of existing retrofit campaigns to broaden their mobilisation and strengthen their demands.
We’ve seen, through tragic consequences, how cost cutting costs lives. At the same time we must ask: where are the lives we are counting? The fight for energy justice is necessarily global. Petrochemical extraction, a precursor to plastic insulation, is an example of global injustice on multiple levels. What energy are we saving when the materials we use demand the continued extraction of fossil fuels? The cost is clear: oppression of people and destruction of environments around the world lock us further into climate change with unequal, deadly impacts.
Equally, if our homes continue to heat the streets, they’ll require more energy. Even if that energy comes from renewable sources, we should be careful about the amount we are demanding. Renewable energy infrastructure requires the mining of the rare earth metals that also wreaks havoc across the globe.
However, the choice between energy efficiency and global justice is a false one. The options are not either unabated climate change or action through profit driven supply chains. Instead, we can align our movements to find a different solution.
One example of a different solution can be found in broadening our understanding of green jobs. By bringing care workers – paid and unpaid – into the conversation, we can ensure retrofit work doesn’t deepen the traditional view that green jobs are exclusively industrial. When conversations about retrofit give weight to caring for our homes and the people in them, decisions begin to reflect the priorities of those, especially women, for whom the home is both a sanctuary and a workplace.
Upon receiving our invitation to the conference, a member of the Global Women’s Strike campaign commented on the description of bad retrofit jobs. “They lack care,” she said simply. With care, we can make homes fit for those of us who are not kings, and who may be pensioners, or disabled, or may be young children. With care we can future proof with low sills, wide doorways, manageable heating controls, and good air quality.
Strengthening our demands
With my Fuel Poverty Action hat set aside, I often fall into the climate campaigner pattern of thought. With the urgency of the climate crisis and the draftiness of UK homes front of mind, I tend to see mass retrofit as a no-brainer solution. This conference will show that it does, in fact, require many brains, or rather a whole community of people thinking and grappling with retrofit’s challenging questions. Challenging questions about health, jobs, and ripple effects from the point of extraction all the way up to the atmosphere. We need to fight for both liveable homes and for a liveable planet, and attention to detail and the domestic will only strengthen our demands and our power.
Alexa Waud is an organiser and researcher based in Edinburgh. She is a director of Fuel Poverty Action, and works on urban climate justice issues with a focus on housing and democracy.
We want first to draw your attention to an important new initiative by residents groups and campaigners, including Grenfell United, the London Tenants Federation, UK Cladding Action Group and Tower Blocks UK, with the support of the University of Leeds, aiming to influence the government’s proposed reforms to high-rise building and fire safety regulation in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.. The Building Safety Bill is currently in draft form and has just been through a pre-legislative inquiry held by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, while the Fire Safety Bill will soon reach the Report Stage in the House of Lords. Related to both are proposed fire safety reforms that have recently been consulted on. There are some encouraging aspects of this reform package, not least the more stringent regulatory enforcement system for high-rise residential buildings under a new Building Safety Regulator with tougher penalties for non-compliance. However, there are many flaws with the Building Safety Bill and the fire safety reforms being laid before parliament:
The proposed scope of the Building Safety Bill excludes buildings under 18 metres as well as care homes, prisons, detention centres, hospitals, hospices, hotels, hostels, and guest houses despite growing evidence of the fire and structural dangers of such buildings.
Original proposals for a very strong enforcement system that would prevent new buildings from being occupied unless compliant and allow citizens the right to bring private legal claims for a breach of building regulations have been inexplicably dropped.
The Draft Building Safety Bill is very vague on how existing buildings will be integrated into the new system
Despite promising to put residents at the heart of the new system, there are hardly any new rights for residents but a whole load of responsibilities including the requirement that leaseholders will be financially liable for an uncapped Building Safety Charge to pay for safety measures
The rights of residents to evacuate in the event of a fire are still being ignored: the government is actively undermining the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations to ensure that high-rise buildings are fitted with fire detection and evacuation systems, and that all landlords prepare Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) to help vulnerable and disabled people and anyone else whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised.
While consultations have closed (see FPA’s submission on the FSO, based on a campaign template, here) it is still possible to influence the Building Safety Bill and the fire safety reforms — and every closed loophole could save lives. The residents’ initiative will shortly be preparing model letters for people to write to their local MP and councillors to encourage them to put pressure on Ministers and relevant parliamentarians. SCIN will update supporters in due course.
If you are interested in getting involved, please get in touch with Phil Murphy – [email protected]
Making Green Come True — 5 December 2020
We warmly invite you to our half-day online conference, titled Making Green Come True where the proposals now before Parliament will be on the agenda, along with other issues related to both cladding and insulation. The conference will give residents an opportunity to highlight the gap between green promises and reality, share experience, build alliances, and add to pressure for accountability in housing. Beyond the critical issue of flammability it is crucial to make sure that both cladding and insulation are non-toxic, and that they do their job — in many cases inappropriate retrofits have actually left homes colder and damper than before. Plus, the materials they use may be carbon-intensive to extract, produce, and transport, cutting into carbon saving.
There will be a second Making Green Come True event in the new year, focusing on heating. In both sessions will be a mixture of people with direct personal experience and people like architects and renovation specialists who have other kinds of expertise. Campaigners on housing, safety, pensioners’ issues, energy and the climate are welcome, as are trade unionists.
Meanwhile, the fight goes on to get flammable cladding of all sorts off of buildings of all heights. The residents of nine Pendleton Together tower blocks in Salford, have finally had ACM cladding removed from blocks which are a mirror image of Grenfell Tower, and have all the same fire risks too. After three years of sleepless nights it is a huge relief. But residents have had no information on when the cladding will be replaced. And after all this time, the cladding has been removed as we go into winter — and a winter of Covid-19.
Here, as elsewhere, FPA have been raising the issue of how people can keep warm without cladding or insulation. The landlord’s response has been an offer of £25 per month — or 83p per day — for additional heating costs. Experience of other blocks shows that when insulation comes off many people cannot keep warm even if they keep the heating on 24/7 — and who can afford to do that?
In the Pendleton Together flats, there are additional problems with many people’s heating systems — they have NIBE heat pumps which have not functioned properly for years. (we are trying again now to get action on this). Some people say they just never put their heating on. But what will that be like, when the building is open to the elements? Flats on high floors are badly exposed to wind. And other such tower blocks have found that, after cladding removal, there is not only condensation but rain penetration as well.
Please tweet in support of Pendleton residents: “@SalfordCouncil and @salford_mayor, how long are the Pendleton high rise blocks going to be without insulation? It’s getting really cold.” See the Salford Star article!
If you know of other blocks where people have been offered — or NOT offered — compensation for extra heating costs, please get in touch — comparing what is happening in different estates and areas can be crucial to improving what people get.
Tens of thousands still in danger
The government’s Building Safety Programme Monthly Data Release looks only at high rise buildings over 18 metres (6 storeys) high, with Grenfell-style ACM cladding. The records for 30 September 2020 show 456 such buildings identified as unlikely to meet Building Regulations.: The buildings are
155 social sector residential,
207 Private sector residential,
54 Student accommodation blocks
30 Hotels and
10 Publicly owned buildings.
The startling thing is that these figures are virtually identical with the statistics for September 2019 (An exception is where, in the private sector, more buildings have been identified as unsafe.) Not only has there been no progress during the pandemic — there was hardly any before that, either. In a hard-hitting report The parliamentary Communities and Local Government Select Committee suggest “Any residential building where works have not commenced by December 2020 should be subject to a Compulsory Purchase Order”.
All of these figures are dwarfed by the huge numbers of homes which still have other combustible materials on their external walls, and homes which are in buildings of under 18 metres high. The same parliamentary Committee says says many of these buildings also have further issues like inadequate fire breaks (34%), and combustible or missing insulation (30%).
“Several of the worst recent fires in residential blocks have taken place in buildings under 18 metres, such as at the Cube student residence in Bolton. There are estimated to be 100,000 buildings between 11 and 18 meters high.” For a personal account of one such fire see here.
On 11 March 2020 the Chancellor announced in the Budget a £1 billion Building Safety Fund for the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems in buildings over 18M.. Building owners and managers are struggling to apply for the Building Safety Fund before its tight December deadline, sometimes impeded by the developers. In New Festival Quarter, Tower Hamlets, for instance, the developer Bellway undertook their own survey and (according to the witness report) found missing cavity barriers, combustible insulation and other issues, as well as the ACM cladding now being removed. But Bellway are currently refusing to share their findings with residents – including information important for the funding application
Importantly, a study has highlighted how “Three major house builders have made combined profits of £5.2bn since the Grenfell Tower fire despite leaseholders in properties they developed facing life-changing bills for fire safety repairs”
Residents’ mental health is still in pieces from living in flammable buildings, and many are also paying a high price financially, e.g. for 24-hour fire watch services. The UK Cladding Action Group, with backing from Inside Housing and from Grenfell United, have been working hard to highlight the cost to leaseholders. .
Sadly, the problem is far from solved for social housing tenants, either, and the Parliamentary Committee raised doubts over whether their landlords would have access to the new the new Building Safety Fund. Graeme Langton, a social housing tenant in Salford says,
“I find myself being called on day in and day out to give emotional support to members of my community currently at their wits end. We have seen a vast increase in mental health self referrals – some have been admitted several times during lockdown.
Of course Covid 19 has affected everyone across the country… but here in inner-city Salford many feel that they are not just suffering but are being ignored and left in limbo due to the fiasco led by Salford City Council / Together Housing / and Pendleton Together. Only now after several years of fighting to get the Grenfell style cladding off, is it being removed. But no works plan to replace the cladding and no confirmation as to the quality or standard of what this new material might be.”
A slew of heavyweight organisations have thrown their weight behind the fight, with the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign relaunched in September 2020. But the long and the short of it is that the government has put £1.6bn into removal work but has said this will be the limit of the funding it provides. The full cost of remediating affected buildings around England is estimated at £15bn. The new legislation in the pipeline now is primarily targeted at new builds, not existing buildings. Much will depend on the campaign we flagged up at the start of this Update.
No Justice in Sight
While the fight goes on to prevent more loss of life, Grenfell Tower survivors and their community are battling for justice for those whose lives were ended or turned upside down on 14 June 2017. In the long-delayed public inquiry they have repeatedly been knocked back by being excluded from the room, by the choice of panellists — and months of an empty chair, and by the decision that oral evidence cannot be used in the prosecution of any individual. The fear of seeing those responsible walk away free is very real.
The evidence coming out of the inquiry is damning and heartbreaking. Among much else, it has heard
That the Tenants Management Organisation, which was inexperienced, poorly performing, and woefully unequipped for its responsibilities with a major refurbishment scheme, discussed with the project’s planners only the “appearance” and the “cost” of ACM cladding – not its safety or efficacy
‘That the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) used “decisive influence” to remove the original contractor on Grenfell Tower despite its claims to have delegated responsibility for the works” putting the council at the heart of cost-cutting decisions: the council’s Laura Johnson “overruled” the TMO and said the council wanted the works re-tendered, which later resulted in the appointment of Rydon on a lower budget, and a cost-cutting exercise that saw metal cladding swapped for combustible plastic-filled panels which fuelled the fire killing 72 people. (Guardian, 6 October 2020🙂
(Yet we are a very long way from seeing anyone in prison for these decisions. And meanwhile, the same practices continue all over the country, including stone-walling and demonising residents who dare to complain.
“Dictating to the Estate”
Very much to the point, then, we’re glad to pass on this message from the team now working on a dynamic expose of what really happened at Grenfell:
“Dictating to the Estate” is a documentary play about events leading up to the Grenfell Tower fire. It uses blog posts, emails and council records to tell the story of the refurbishment of the tower and residents’ attempts to hold the council to account. At the same time, it places these events in the wider context of austerity, social cleansing and deregulation.
Following on from the successful public readings we did last year, the new production will have a new cast and an extensively rewritten script, incorporating information that is currently coming out of the Inquiry. Although it has been delayed a number of times by the pandemic, it will now be coming on stage in November 2021 at the Maxilla Social Club in North Kensington, just a few minutes’ walk from Grenfell Tower. We will also be recording and releasing a free digital performance that people can watch online.
The production is working in partnership with Fuel Poverty Action’s Safe Cladding Now campaign, and will include public talks on issues of fire safety in its satellite events.
Annual General Meeting – 6.45 for 7pm Thursday 10 September 2020
RSVP – It is essential to let us know you’re coming, as we will then send you the link and details for zoom ([email protected]).
Following AGM business* (6.45) and a report of the year’s activities, this AGM will focus on plans for the coming winter and the hard times ahead
bearing in mind how the pandemic, climate change, and increasing poverty and austerity are affecting first and hardest those who already have least: those of us who are Black or Minority Ethnic, low waged, unwaged, pensioners, disabled, children and young people, on benefits, migrants, or in poor housing.
We are delighted to provide a platform for three guest speakers:
Mónica Guiteras from APE, the Alliance against Energy Poverty, Catalonia which has been exceptionally successful in holding energy suppliers to account will speak about how they have done it, using the combined power of people who can’t pay their bills, joining with climate and housing activists.
Graeme Langton, campaigning resident from a tower block in Salford which is just now having Grenfell-style cladding removed. Residents are facing a winter without insulation and with heat pumps that they can’t afford to use.
Murat Kaya, Southwark leaseholder who recently won his case against the council which wanted him to pay for a new district heating boiler that never worked.
Discussion to include ‘How can we…?’:
Accelerate the home retrofits needed to keep us warm (and cool) enough, keep bills down, and slow the rush towards a transformed climate
Access the energy we need to stay healthy
Ensure that insulation and heating systems, in both new and old homes, are non-flammable, non-toxic, well-designed/installed/maintained, good for the climate, and suitable for our homes and for us as residents
Protect residents who are left without insulation following removal of cladding, or whose heating systems keep breaking down
Spread the word about what we’re entitled to and how to access help and insist on rights
Stop gas and electricity disconnections, district heating outages, and hungry prepayment meters. No more hungry children
At 8 pm, we invite you to get together with others who share your heating, housing, and affordability issues in smaller groups. We will then come back together and finish by 8.30.
Fuel Poverty Action welcomes new members, and people who want to work with us in other ways. Come along and raise your own issues, find out what’s happening, and consider how you might be part of it.
If you want help in getting to grips with zoom, please let us know well in advance and we will help you.
* The AGM business section, for FPA’s voting members, will include a financial report and election of Directors. Members may appoint a proxy under section 324 of the Companies Act 2006 and article 22.