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The Policy Ask with Adam Scorer: “The UK still seems allergic to learning from other governments”

The chief executive of National Energy Action on the cost-of-living crisis and the UK’s failing benefits system.

By Spotlight

Adam Scorer is the chief executive of National Energy Action (NEA), a charity that works and campaigns across EnglandWales and Northern Ireland to eradicate fuel poverty. Scorer has been in his role since 2018, and before that he worked for a number of policy-focused institutions, including the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Energy UK, Citizens Advice and Which?

How do you start your working day?

It’s a very slow and uneven awakening. I try to hit minimum caffeine levels as quickly as possible, reanimate a teenager, and then try to avoid the dog walk. For me the first hour of the day is very precious and the most reliably productive of the day. I make some progress on stuff that won’t go away and establish some positive momentum.

What has been your career high?

For me it’s always the first positive experience of making change. Still a volunteer, but I was able to help negotiate a statement of special educational need for a severely visually impaired girl. This included access to a specialist school, adapted equipment and a proper package of support. It felt life-changing for her and her family. I still get that buzz every day when colleagues do the same for our clients.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

Probably because it’s so fresh in my memory, the forced response to the pandemic challenged everything, for our clients, our staff, the charity and the wider policy environment. But it also brought the best out of everyone at NEA and put the interests of households and clients even more firmly at the centre of our universe.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

Take extraordinarily good care of your network – not to advance your own career or for short-term instrumental benefits, but to co-opt as many people as you can to affect positive change through their careers, and be happy to be co-opted by them. At NEA we don’t do anything by ourselves. Everything is in partnership. This makes life better and change easier.

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[See also: Britons are reducing energy use to save money – and the environment]

Which political figure inspires you, and why?

I’m not one to seek inspiration from political figures, but I’m very partial to a tenacious and methodical select committee chair putting the powerful and under-accountable under some stress. There has been plenty of them from both main parties over the years. Darren Jones, chair of the Business and Trade Committee, is doing a good job at the moment.

What policy or fund is the UK government getting right?

It’s pretty hard to see the policy equivalent of pension auto-enrolment, Sure Start, or the national living wage at the moment. However, despite a flimsy policy architecture to support it, the statutory commitment to hit net zero by 2050 is the most positive, consequential policy commitment of recent years. It’s something around which the various moving parts of net zero can coalesce.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?

By design, I’d say Rwanda deportations. But that’s not biting yet. So, by impact it’s benefits policy. NEA sees poverty in the UK broadening and deepening. The sanctions, household cap and debt deduction regimes in the benefits system add crisis and trauma to tough lives. Everyone should be able to afford the essentials of life. That’s not the case in the UK.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

Ever the optimist, I’m looking forward to the day when the government recognises that the energy, climate, public health and housing crises require a decade of investment in the homes of the poorest so that we have warm, safe and healthy homes as the foundation of good, productive lives in a more efficient, greener society.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

More practically, the UK could do worse than look to examples from Europe in how to put demand reduction, energy efficiency and effective regulation at the heart of national energy strategy. Germany is probably the place to look to for a comprehensive, mutually reinforcing package of measures and policies. Sadly, the UK still seems allergic to learning from other jurisdictions or to valuing energy efficiency.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

If you gave it a name it’d be the Vulnerable Energy Consumer Protections Act. This would recognise and address the gaps and inadequacies exposed by the energy price crisis. It would include legal requirements around financial vulnerability, social tariffs to guarantee the cheapest prices for the poorest, tougher protection on prepayment meters, and support to get people out of energy debt faster. Do it now. Don’t waste the crisis.

[See also: Why market reform, not freezing bills, is the answer to energy security]

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