HOMES FIT FOR HEROES -100 YEARS ON
Blog by Lesley Rudd
100 years ago in 1918, Prime Minister David Lloyd George gave a speech in which he promised “to make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in.” He promised, “homes fit for heroes”.
After the trauma of the First World War, those returning home required jobs and homes for their families. It was recognised that the slums of the pre-war years were not going to enable a healthy workforce that was fit to tackle the challenges of the new post-war world and British politicians were eager to avoid the riot and revolution that had swept Europe in the later stages of the war. Building new homes was therefore an important part of building social cohesion.
Parliament passed the ambitious Housing Act 1919 which promised government subsidies to help finance the construction of 500,000 houses within three years. It is interesting to note that the Act’s author, Dr Christopher Addison, was Minister for Health – so even 100 years ago the link between a healthy workforce and good quality housing was recognised.
Significantly less homes were built than originally planned as the economy rapidly weakened in the 1920s and funding was cut, but nevertheless the Act was a highly significant step forward in housing provision. It made housing a national responsibility, and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people.
So, 100 years later how have things progressed? Well once again we have a housing crisis; young people with nowhere affordable to live and a severe lack of good quality homes. Housing standards and ambition still fluctuate depending on the economic climate as they did in the 1920s. They also fluctuate depending on the political climate, as demonstrated by the scrapping of the zero carbon homes policy in 2015.
The construction industry has consolidated meaning that 8 to 10 large building companies now dominate housing supply. This makes Government intervention via regulation and mandatory standards more important than ever. Some argue that the free market should be allowed to flourish, and intervention should be minimised, but this ignores the fact that there is little incentive for those building houses for sale to ensure they are affordable to live in once they are sold. Leaving the standards of our houses to market forces does not work. The odds are stacked too far in favour of the dominant builders particularly given that they do not suffer when houses they have sold are subsequently not affordable to live in. It is the buyer and ultimately the country that suffers when housing is poor quality.
The houses built today should be around for the next 100 years, so we need to ensure they have minimal impact on the environment and health. This means reducing the emissions from our building stock by future proofing our homes. This can be achieved through improved thermal efficiency to reduce the need for heating and installing efficient and low carbon heating systems. Setting a maximum return temperature for heating systems for example would ensure that condensing boilers can condense properly, enable the installation of low carbon heating systems in the future and would also drive innovation. After all, housing standards are only adequate if they secure better housing for today and tomorrow.
Unfortunately, our housing crisis is not restricted to new builds. Too many of our existing homes are very inefficient and expensive to heat. Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) provide information about the energy efficiency of a home with Band A indicating the most energy-efficient homes. The Sustainable Energy Association has been campaigning for some time for buildings to be brought up to EPC Band C; homes in fuel poverty to reach Band C by 2030 and all homes by 2035. We were pleased that the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy reflected these asks, stating “We want all fuel poor homes to be upgraded to EPC Band C by 2030 and our aspiration is for as many homes as possible to be EPC band C by 2035 where practical, cost-effective and affordable.” The government’s aspirations are encouraging but as history shows commitments fluctuate with both the economic and the political climate. We believe that this commitment should therefore be enshrined in law and for this reason we are promoting the Domestic Properties (Minimum Energy Performance) Bill..
Enshrining these targets in law would prevent any future government disregarding the target, would provide the certainty needed to trigger vital investment and would encourage innovation. The Bill has cross-party support from notable parliamentarians. It could be a crucial determinant in eradicating fuel poverty and ensuring that our homes are fit for the future. The SEA is calling on organisations to support the campaign by providing their logo for a letter to BEIS minister Claire Perry. If you would like to support the campaign, please contact:
In a world of finite resources, the Sustainable Energy Association exists to help create living and working spaces fit for future generations. Our work seeks to align the interests of business, politicians and consumers to make this a reality.