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Counting the cost of an unhealthy lockdown
By Anna Dukhno
June 19, 2020

The appalling housing inequality facing millions of people has been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic.

As the world was forced into endless weeks of lockdown at home, the spotlight inevitably fell on the quality of these homes.

And for the most vulnerable in society — those living in damp, cold and neglected apartments, houses and rooms — the harsh reality was that their homes were simply not good enough.

At Knauf Insulation we believe that housing needs a radical rethink to focus on what is really important — the health of people and making their buildings healthier in every respect.

 

Excessive winter deaths

In Europe alone, at least 50 million people cannot afford to properly heat or cool their homes and — since most people normally spend 90% of their time indoors — this is an economic challenge that inevitably impacts health.

A World Health Organisation survey of 11 European countries found that 38,203 excess winter deaths every year could be linked to cold housing, while people are 40% more likely to have asthma when living in a damp or mouldy home.

The impact on people being locked down for 100% of their time is still unknown, but being unable to effectively leave poor living conditions will inevitably have consequences for physical and mental health.

The economic cost to these households is also unknown, but energy bill challenges are likely to be sharpened by the impact of unemployment, the lifting of furlough schemes and an economy that will shrink by 7.4% this year.

 

Supporting the vulnerable

At Knauf Insulation we have consistently campaigned for the deep energy efficient renovation of buildings, particularly those which house the most vulnerable in society.

Now is the time.

The European Commission has unveiled a Next Generation EU proposal of €750 billion as well as targeted reinforcements to the long-term EU budget for 2021-2027, that promises altogether €1.85 trillion of financial firepower to mobilise a transformational recovery of Europe post-COVID-19.

We believe that an ambitious percentage of that money should drive a massive Europe-wide commitment to deep renovation — at least a doubling of the present annual rate — with a focus on those who need that renovation most.

More than 94% of today’s buildings will still be standing in 2050 and the vast majority of them are in the lowest energy classes of E, F and G. Those who live in these buildings deserve better.

There are plenty of national examples to inspire policymakers. In the Czech Republic, for example, revenues have been channelled from the Emissions Trading System into renovation programmes for more than a decade, while in Italy the government has just launched a fiscal credit that effectively allows people to renovate their homes for free.

In France an ambitious programme has targeted the renovation of 500,000 homes every year with a focus on those who struggle to pay energy bills.

 

‘Reimagining social housing’

At Knauf Insulation, we not only support programmes such as these, we also pioneer new approaches to renovation.

2019 saw the launch of Knauf Energy Solutions, a Knauf Group division, dedicated to ensuring the most effective building renovation process possible by guaranteeing high quality solutions, outstanding standards of installation and, most importantly, delivering quantifiable metered savings at scale.

In other words, making sure that any savings promised are delivered in reality.

The company has already worked with a range of social housing associations across Belgium and in the words of Bart Vranken of SHM Woonpunt Zennevallei: “Helped us re-imagine the way we retrofit our stock and dramatically improve its energy performance.”

Let us hope that as world leaders navigate their way out of the post-pandemic crisis, they never lose sight of what is really important — caring for those who need support the most.