Are energy efficiency programmes all they seem?

Ross Gillard, University of York and Carolyn Snell, University of York

The cost of energy in the UK is once again a hot topic. During the party conference season, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, announced that the Scottish government will set up a publicly owned, not for profit energy company. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn restated his wish to nationalise utility companies to “stop the public being ripped off”. And the Conservative prime minister Theresa May promised to fix the “broken” energy market, in part by imposing a cap on some domestic energy prices.

The UK government swiftly followed this season of rhetoric with two supporting policy announcements. It has drawn up draft legislation to set an energy price cap, although this may take until the winter of 2018/19 to be enacted. Second, it has published a clean growth strategy, which promises “cleaner air, lower energy bills, greater economic security and a natural environment protected and enhanced for the future”.

It’s not easy to address the social, environmental and economic dimensions of domestic energy in one go, as these different goals interact with each other. For example, a price cap clearly makes energy more affordable, but it doesn’t reduce the amount of energy needed or used. While the sheer price of energy is problematic for many people, so too is inefficient housing which increases bills and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The clean growth strategy addresses this by reconfirming a commitment to require large energy companies to install efficiency measures such as insulation and heating systems. This scheme, the energy company obligation (ECO), now has £3.6 billion in funding through to 2028. It aims to help 2.5m fuel-poor households. Alongside stricter regulations within the private rented sector, the ECO is intended to upgrade all fuel-poor homes to a decent standard by 2030.

But it’s worth putting the rhetoric and promises of these policy announcements into context. Help for people in fuel poverty has decreased since 2010, largely due to the coalition government abandoning publicly funded schemes in England in favour of privately funded energy supplier obligations like ECO. Though social and environmental policies do add to fuel bills, policymakers assume that this increase is more than offset by people using less energy thanks to efficiency savings.

How much heat is escaping out of your windows?
Ivan Smuk / shutterstock

In our research we are currently looking at whether ECO is an effective way to address affordability and energy efficiency in vulnerable people’s homes. England is the only one of the four UK nations that relies solely on this market-driven scheme, so it’s important to evaluate its impact. We recently highlighted a number of potential problems, and solutions. To begin with, only certain people are eligible. Proxies such as welfare benefits, demographics and postcodes are used, but they can arbitrarily exclude households on the margins of these measures who may indeed be vulnerable.

People also struggle to upgrade their homes if the work does not enable a certain amount of carbon savings at a certain price. In other words, private companies are likely to prioritise meeting their statutory obligations rather than findings and helping the most vulnerable households. Even for those that do secure funding, it’s at best a long and complicated process. Some upgrades are never completed because installers are not equipped to manage the needs of people with, for example, disabilities or mental health conditions.

What is clear from our comparative research of the UK nations is that state funded schemes, such as nest in Wales and home energy efficiency programmes in Scotland, are better able to target, and respond to the needs of, vulnerable households. Market driven schemes are different as they will, by definition, seek out the most cost effective work. But this ceases to be an asset once the low-hanging fruit has all been picked, and those with the greatest need (and potentially higher costs) are left subsidising other people’s housing upgrades.

The ConversationAn energy price cap will certainly provide some initial relief. But unless it is continually ratcheted down or extended to more customers it will not provide long-term savings or wider benefits. Increasing investment in energy efficiency ticks more social and environmental boxes, but the regressive approach to funding such a scheme in England means it will continue prioritising cost-effective carbon savings over helping those most in need.

Ross Gillard, Research associate, University of York and Carolyn Snell, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Investing in people’s futures

“IMF research has shown that excessive inequality hinders growth and hollows out the country’s economic foundation. It erodes trust within society and fuels political tensions.”

In the past three decades, economic inequality between countries has declined sharply, said Christine Lagarde at her recent public speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“But if we look at inequality within countries, especially some advanced economies, we see widening gaps and an increased concentration of wealth among the top earners.”

There are no lesser human beings and higher human beings. That idea is a fallacy. Greater equality brings greater happiness, particularly if it lifts everyone who is in deep poverty out of it, and even benefits those at the top.

In 1981, the average top marginal tax rate in advanced economies was 62%. In 2015, it was 35%. New IMF research (which will be published next week) suggests that some advanced economies could raise their top tax rates without slowing growth. “Worth considering.”

“What is not yet done is only what we have not yet attempted to do.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

Should Uncle Sam ‘send in the Marines’ after hurricanes?

Julia Brooks, Harvard University and David Polatty, US Naval War College

When humanitarian emergencies flare up, what should prompt the U.S. government to “send in the Marines”?

Disasters like Hurricane Harvey’s floods in Houston and Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico’s roads and power grid can quickly overwhelm civilian authorities and emergency responders. Military support can make a life-or-death difference in those emergencies.

As scholars at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, we have seen that the military can have a profound and positive impact on the immediate response to large-scale disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria or the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

But soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators are primarily trained to fight, not feed disaster victims. When they report for humanitarian duties, it typically costs far more than when civilians handle them. Does their muscle actually go to good use?

Why deploy the military

Nonprofits like the Red Cross and government agencies like FEMA simply don’t have the equipment required following disasters like the one unfolding in Puerto Rico – where millions of people may lack power and clean drinking water for months.

Only the military can promptly dispatch the ships and planes required to move people, supplies and fuel. It has the electrical generators, water purifiers, bulldozers and lift equipment for search and rescue operations, debris removal and reconstruction.

At the same time, many military personnel also report that aid missions are good for morale, as countless service members take pride in doing disaster relief.

Having soldiers or sailors airlift people from their flooded homes or distribute hot meals is also great public relations at a time when the U.S. military is engaged in several unpopular and protracted conflicts abroad.

Domestic limits

While military missions can fill critical gaps in response to large-scale natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, there are also significant limits to the military’s ability to jump in.

For one, there are laws restricting U.S. military operations on U.S. soil. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits active duty military personnel from engaging in civilian law enforcement, although the National Guard may be deployed in some circumstances.

Also, under a law known as the Stafford Act of 1988, the Department of Homeland Security may request military assistance as a last resort in major disasters and emergencies.

These restrictions have loosened up a little since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, granting the military and National Guard more leeway to support domestic counterterrorism operations. These changes made it easier for the military and National Guard to respond to the recent hurricanes.

But there are no such legal restrictions on how the U.S. military may respond to foreign disasters, as long as host governments request help or consent to it.

A common call

According to the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded defense research center, the U.S. military diverted units from “routine” operations to conduct humanitarian assistance operations 366 times from 1970 to 2000, compared with 22 times for combat missions.

Since 2000, the U.S. armed forces have conducted many massive humanitarian operations around the globe, such as responding to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and the 2015 Nepal earthquake, as well as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina at home.

Given how frequently the military undertakes these missions, preparing for them should be a high priority. But that is not the case. With few notable exceptions, soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators spend little if any time training for disaster-response strategies, tactics, policies and procedures.

Concerns

When the same people fight wars and distribute food to people in distress, it can quickly blur the lines, exposing aid workers to attack.

That is why aid workers for nonprofit organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam have expressed concerns about what they see as a growing “militarization” of humanitarian relief that endangers their own safety and hinders their effectiveness.

There is also the high cost of having boots on the ground doing civilian work.

Consider what happened when the U.S. military responded rapidly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left 220,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and 1,500,000 people displaced. More than a third of the total of US$1.12 billion in U.S. aid – $453.5 million – covered the costs of military transport, personnel and supplies.

According to estimates by Aruna Apte at the Naval Postgraduate School and Keenan Yoho at Rollins College, the U.S. spent more than $17 million just to operate a single aircraft carrier nearby for 17 days – not counting personnel costs.

Aircraft carriers are essentially floating airfields that make it easier to access otherwise impossible-to-reach areas, facilitating evacuations. Although they can dispatch critical food, water and medicine, there are usually better ways to deliver aid after disasters.

For context, that $17 million could have covered the cost of all of the humanitarian organization Save the Children’s health programs in Haiti between 2010 and 2012.

Finding the balance

Despite the big price tag, military involvement in disaster relief is bound to grow. That’s because global humanitarian organizations are already stretched thin by competing needs.
Conflict-driven migration is growing, and severe storms are becoming more common as a result of climate change – along with the higher sea levels scientists say it is causing.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants to cut civilian government spending while boosting the Pentagon’s budget.

But we believe it would be a huge mistake for the government to rely primarily on the armed forces in the aftermath of disasters.

The military’s unique capacity can be incredibly useful in the short term. Yet even when its help is most needed, these deployments should be brief and tailored.

The ConversationOther than in the immediate aftermath of the biggest emergencies, the government should activate civilian emergency responders and humanitarian aid groups instead of sending the Marines.

Julia Brooks, Researcher in international law and humanitarian response, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University and David Polatty, Director, Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program, US Naval War College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Homelessness, housing duty and vulnerability

Today is the third of three days at the Supreme Court that focus on homelessness, housing duty and vulnerability (or rather, priority).

courthouseThe three cases are:
– Hotak (Appellant) v London Borough of Southwark (Respondent)
– Johnson (Appellant) v Solihull MBC (Respondent)
– Kanu (AP) (Appellant) v London Borough of Southwark (Respondent)

(Interveners in all three cases:
Equality and Human Rights Commission, Shelter, Crisis and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.)

What is it all about? Predominantly 189(1)(c) in the Housing Act 1996:

189 Priority need for accommodation.

(1) The following have a priority need for accommodation—

(a) a pregnant woman or a person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(b) a person with whom dependent children reside or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(c) a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(d )a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order—

(a) specify further descriptions of persons as having a priority need for accommodation, and

(b) amend or repeal any part of subsection (1).

(3) Before making such an order the Secretary of State shall consult such associations representing relevant authorities, and such other persons, as he considers appropriate.

(4) No such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

Hotak is a pretty straightforward case, at first sight; the two other cases are less clear. Hotak concerns two brothers, one of which (Sifatullah) would certainly be considered vulnerable if the other one (Ezatullah) had not said that he would look after his brother. The brothers were living in a friend’s flat in Southwark, but told to leave because of overcrowding. Ezatullah’s immigration status at the time, however, made him ineligible for housing assistance.

Southwark did give the brothers temporary housing while it made its mind up. It decided that Sifatullah was unintentionally homeless, and eligible for assistance, yet did not consider him vulnerable in terms of in priority need of housing because his brother was looking after him. This is where the case went off the rails.

If Sifatullah were a pregnant woman, unintentionally homeless (as it is called), and eligible for assistance, whether the person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside supports her or not makes no difference, as one of the lawyers highlighted on Monday.

Another one pointed out that the law does not contain an element of comparison. A person’s own condition makes him or her relatively vulnerable when on the street, and the law had the intention of preventing and eliminating all homelessness. This would mean that a) there is no such thing as “an ordinary street-homeless person” (used by Southwark to compare Sifatullah against) and b) one could say that being homeless in itself already points toward a person being less able to fend for himself or herself, as homelessness is not the norm in this country.

It looks like the practice of the application of this legislation – carried out by the decision-making housing officer – has been moving toward comparing a blind applicant with street-homeless blind applicants, deaf applicants with street-homeless deaf applicants, mentally ill applicants with street-homeless mentally ill applicants, applicants with substance abuse with homeless people with substance abuse.

More specifically, practice seems to be more and more relying on the premise that all homeless persons are, almost by definition, street-homeless mentally ill and/or substance abusers and/or physically ill, deserving no special protection (in Johnson, for instance). The law was not intended that way. The law does not even say anything like this.

The pregnant woman, however, is never compared with other pregnant women to determine her vulnerability. The same applies to any persons who have lost their home in a flood.

“Ideas about vulnerability are perhaps most often applied by those in more powerful positions to define those in less powerful ones.” (Kate Brown)

Housing matters at the Supreme Court – 5

Today in Court 2:
Aster Communities Limited (formerly Flourish Homes Limited) (Respondent) v Akerman-Livingstone (AP) (Appellant)

courthouseNot broadcast live.

A clear case of a causal relationship between someone’s disability and the reason for issuing proceedings, in my view. Someone unable to comply with what is expected from him. (One could see it as maladministration, perhaps.)

Will the Supreme Court see a violation of the Equality Act and let this weigh heavier or will other interests overrule?

Not an easy case.

Update: still went live later.

PS
See also my earlier post about this case.

Housing matters at the Supreme Court – 4

courthouse

Coming up first is Aster v Akerman-Livingstone, on 10 December.

lady justice Hotak v London Borough of Southwark has been moved and is now scheduled together with two more cases, Kanu v London Borough of Southwark and  Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, on 15 to 17 December. Central question: What is “vulnerability”, in housing matters?