Committee of Employment and Social affairs
Amongst the many issues I'm involved with on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, I'm representing the Liberal (ALDE) group on a report being drawn up by French Greens on Social Housing.
The rapporteur (draftsperson) is very keen and has done a lot to try to stimulate a constructive debate before her draft report is published. I've gladly taken part in these discussions and with my experience from being on the Environment and Development committee as a councillor I'm familiar with many of the challenges.
A key issue highlighted by the various stakeholders who have fed in evidence so far is the issue of fuel poverty.
I'm wary of the definitions here, as by the UK definition, the Queen, and myself are both considered to be in fuel poverty (it's calculated on number of rooms in your home and cost of heating against income).
That aside, there is a serious problem faced by a growing number of people, that the cost of heating their homes is becoming an ever larger proportion of their overall income. Typically, heating and cost of housing (rent or mortgage) are the two biggest areas of expenditure for a low income household.
In the current climate of sharply increasing energy prices, and with incomes staying pretty much the same or decreasing due to the economic environment, it is inevitably the worse off who feel the biggest pinch.
The UK government has put in a variety of policies to tackle this. The green deal for example is something I helped draw up a few years ago as a member of the Lib Dem Federal policy committee, and now thanks to the coalition, were seeing it implemented. The idea is that householders undertake energy efficiency refurbishment, particularly insulation installation, which is paid for directly by the energy companies. The householder then pays back the energy company through a small addition to their much reduced bills.
This works very well for home owners, and there is additional support for low income homeowners through tax credits, but if you are a tenant, there is no incentive here to take this on. Equally as a landlord, you don't pay the heating bills so have no incentive to make the investment either.
In the cases of social housing, often of poorer quality and with lower energy efficiency (no double glazing or loft insulation) it is the most economically vulnerable; students, young people, the unemployed or elderly who would gain the most from these schemes lowering their energy costs, but are the least able to access them.
We're working in the Employment committee to share best practice form our own national policies, and also share examples of things that haven't worked well to try and work out how to tackle this and many other problems like it.
The EU can't dictate on these issues, but we can make constructive suggestions for the European Commission and for National Governments to take on board. We can also help bring together ides from those actors in the social housing sector to make them more aware of the sources of funding available to help with this kind of work, and the schemes being developed by local authorities, government and the EU to solve this.
Work will continue until summer, but I'm optimistic that in these tough times we can come up with suggestions that help the environment and help ordinary people at the same time.