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Warm Hubs

Volume 824: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support the establishment and maintenance of warm hubs in England.

Warm hubs, as with Covid support, are a fantastic example of the way in which faith and community groups can work together with local authorities to provide support and help for their communities. The Government strongly support these initiatives, but local government, which knows the needs of its communities, is best able to give support. We have made an increase of £3.7 billion to local government this financial year. We have also made available £1.4 billion through the household support fund.

I thank the Minister for her reply. is a coalition of many Christian charities that so far have signed up more than 1,600 halls, organisations and buildings to act as warm hubs providing lunches after school, homework clubs and so on. What consideration has been given to using these places of meeting to communicate and help people understand whether they can access other benefits, health advice, local charities and other support that is available during these very troubling times?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. Warm hubs are there to do one specific thing, but we have the opportunity to make them not just warm, welcoming places to go but places where people who might be lonely will not be as lonely, with ongoing support for loneliness, which we know is a cause of mental health issues. He is right that hubs are an opportunity to ensure that local people get the support and knowledge they need and are entitled to, including information on such things as flu and Covid vaccines. We should be using them, and to that end I will talk—and have already talked—to the Local Government Association about best practice to move this forward.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for this important Question. The Minister will be aware that there are deep issues with the shortage of funding within all local authorities. They are having to scrape the barrel to fund services for children, adults with learning difficulties and a whole range of others. Can the Minister say with serious courtesy and conscience that the sixth-largest economy in the world can justify failing large sections of the community and rely on the use of these hubs? The most significant amount of work has been done by charities and interfaith organisations. Can we seriously say that we are satisfied with this?

My Lords, the Government have given large amounts of money to support people, households and businesses with their energy issues. I do not agree with the noble Baroness; I think communities are where these things are best delivered, and communities and local government know how to deliver them in the best way. I know that local authorities are always strapped for cash, but it is a matter of prioritisation for those local authorities and we have increased their grant by £3.7 billion this year. There is also the household support grant, a third of which is for supporting families and a third for pensioners. The other third is not ring-fenced and can very well be used for these sorts of projects.

I commend my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the London Borough of Sutton, who have already announced that they will use their libraries as warm hubs throughout the winter. Does the Minister agree with me that many commercial businesses inevitably have to use energy for their business? Will she ensure that some of the funding that goes to local government enables it to turn businesses, where possible, into warm hubs? I am thinking of places such as shopping centres, for example, which have to have a minimum amount of heating.

The noble Baroness is right: we must never forget the private sector. We talk a lot about the public sector, the voluntary sector and the faith sector, but there is always the private sector. The private sector is getting energy bill relief from the Government, as are the voluntary and public sectors, so they are also getting support on their energy. I quite agree that, if we can encourage more private sector companies to look at this locally, it will help them as well as the people they support.

My Lords, given that my question earlier was about joining up, will the Minister answer the same question I asked her colleague from DCMS? What can the Government do to encourage and incentivise local authorities, statutory providers, faith organisations, the voluntary sector and the cultural sector, including libraries, to work together to maximise this kind of provision and make sure that it is advertised and made available to those people in the community who need it the most?

I do not think we are starting from the beginning. I googled “warm hubs” today, and I suggest that noble Lords do the same. Across the whole country, these partnerships are happening now. I spoke to the chairman of the Local Government Association last night, and I encouraged it to ensure best practice—this is now happening with our partners in faith and other community groups and the private sector—and to put that information out so that all local authorities do it. Look at Leeds. Today it has put out a map of where all its warm hubs are in the city. That is a wonderful idea and should be taken up by others.

My Lords, it is quite clear that higher energy prices are going to have the effect of cutting the amount of energy that people use. Have the Government done any calculations on the demand for energy dropping as a result of higher prices?

I am very sorry, but I do not know the answer to that. I will go to BEIS, which is responsible for this, ask it for an answer and make sure that the whole House gets that answer.

My Lords, in addition to supporting organisations in providing warm hubs, since 2011 the Labour-led Government in Wales have invested almost £400 million into more than 67,000 homes to improve energy efficiency. Will the Minister commit to improving energy efficiency in homes across the UK? I ask her to begin by accepting the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to the social housing Bill, to which noble Lords agreed earlier this week.

I think the time has come for that amendment, but the noble Baroness is right. Warm hubs are about this winter and the immediate. We have a longer-term plan: Help to Heat is the Government’s investment of £12 billion into schemes to ensure that homes are warmer and cheaper to heat. They include boiler upgrades, local authority delivery schemes for sustainable warmth competitions, home upgrade grants, the social housing decarbonisation fund and, of course, the energy company obligations. There are a number of schemes that the Government are investing in, as is the private sector, to make sure that, in the long term, our homes are better insulated and can keep warmer on less energy.

My Lords, a lot of the solutions we have heard today are very much urban-based. I live in the middle of Cornwall, where we have 10 miles between villages. Picking up on libraries, which is a good idea, that is not quite as workable. Do the Government have any bright ideas on the rural sector?

I do not think the Government necessarily do, but local government certainly does. If you google them, you will see the number of village halls and parish councils in these small rural areas that are doing exactly what the more urban areas are doing. We have village halls all across the country, and they can use the energy scheme for businesses and the voluntary sector. Working with their local councils, they can also get small grants to support their local villages. Also, in most of our rural villages there is a church. Working together with faith communities and parish councils, you can deliver in rural areas.

My Lords, I will make a constructive suggestion in relation to rural areas; I wonder whether the Minister can help on this. We need a national campaign to encourage people in small villages, such as the one I live in, to welcome people into their homes for coffee or tea and to enable people to walk to a local warm hub, which could just be a local person who reaches out. I believe that many people would be committed to doing that. My anxiety is that we will end up with loads of people feeling that they need to go to a warm hub and sit still, which is not a solution either.

I am more than happy to talk further with the noble Baroness. Some of these things are happening, but it is a matter of making sure that we keep them all together and that good practice is transferred across the country.