February 21, 2024 - 7:00am

The UK Government’s Net Zero transition policies risk making the poor poorer, a new report has found.

Research published by the Young Foundation shows that the Net Zero plan requires wholesale participation across society, failing to account for the unique needs and vulnerabilities of different communities. Thus the poorest 40% of UK households are at risk of falling into “transition poverty” under these policies — meaning they’ll struggle to meet basic needs and see a decline in quality of life under rising costs.

Low-income households are less likely to be able to afford carbon-cutting measures, such as new cars and updates to their homes, making these families more likely to face tariffs and fines. The poor will also be hit harder by the shrinking of the job market in high-carbon sectors such as mining. Meanwhile, the earliest adopters of low-emissions updates are concentrated in higher-earning, higher-cost areas. 

The green energy transition will exacerbate existing inequalities, the report finds, including through rising unemployment, rising food costs, and regulations forcing the poor to hold on to older vehicles and appliances as they become more expensive to maintain. The transition will also mean fewer opportunities for leisure and socialising as transportation becomes more expensive. 

The report recommends that the Government gives financial support to the poor to help cover the cost of transportation and housing upgrades, as well as rising costs of food and fuel associated with the transition. “The transition risks pushing already vulnerable families and communities further into deprivation, exclusion and crisis,” the report reads. “Furthermore, these groups are most likely to be affected by both climate change impacts, and policy choices associated with Net Zero.” Other suggestions include decentralising authority in the implementation of Net Zero policies to allow for more local control. 

The UK is aiming to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Immediate plans include restrictions on home heating appliances, and future proposals include special taxes on meat and flying as well as mandatory car-sharing. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed inequality concerns related to Net Zero in a September speech, warning that, by disproportionately impacting the working class, Net Zero policies run the risk of losing public support. As it stands, the Government’s push to cut emissions enjoys majority support in the UK, and Sunak’s suggestion that Net Zero policies be rolled back has evidently hurt his own popularity.