Net zero to the Housing Crisis: How We’re Using Expert Evidence to Help Policymakers Improve UK Society

icons depiciting different tiers of government

Sarah O’Meara

Three years ago, The Conversation partnered with a group of leading universities, including UCL, Cardiff and Queen’s Belfast, on the ESRC-funded International Public Policy Observatory (IPP0). The project’s goal was initially to assess and report to UK policymakers evidence from around the world on the best ways to mitigate the devastating social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

IPPO has since evolved and expanded – and from January 2023 has been tailoring its work to focus on a wide range of key UK social challenges, from net zero to inequality.

For example, the UK is committed to reaching net zero by 2050. But the country’s uptake of green technologies, such as heat pump installation, currently lags far behind that of many other European nations such as Norway, Finland, France and Italy.

Consequently, UK policymakers must urgently find new ways to get so-called “able to pay” households to spend their money on green technologies such as better insulation and heat pumps.

IPPO’s recent review of the published evidence suggests policy interventions that support the behavioural and emotional reasons for making these choices could increase the likelihood of consumers moving towards green purchases.

New policy ideas could include the establishment of Home Upgrade Agencies across the UK to coordinate consistent messaging and offer bespoke advice to householders. Storytelling around net zero should also be made more relevant to people’s everyday lives: binning the jargon; being honest but hopeful; appealing to people’s emotions and everyday realities rather than just reporting the broad, technocratic detail, and acknowledging the current impact of falling living standards on many communities.

Finding our place

Post-pandemic, remote and hybrid working have become the new normal – leading to substantial social change. Indeed, the UK is facing unprecedented challenges as people decide where to work and live.

While, overall, remote and hybrid working can benefit people’s subjective experience of work, we need solid research to truly learn from the dramatic social changes wrought by the pandemic.

We must also ensure that certain groups, such as those with disabilities, have sufficient support to make positive changes to their working lives.

As fewer people head to the office, policymakers must also consider how we use this increasingly vacant space – particularly as the UK is facing a chronic housing shortage. Indeed, the UK government is proposing to widen planning rules to encourage developers and builders to convert empty commercial spaces into housing.

This sounds superficially positive – but can trigger its own, deeper problems. Work by IPPO, for example, shows that converting commercial buildings into housing under these proposed “permitted development rights” tends to result in smaller, lower-quality homes in worse locations than homes given full planning permission. And this directly impacts people’s lives.

Indeed, this change to planning rules is likely to make the existing housing quality crisis even worse, as already cash-strapped local authorities lose oversight of the development process.

Finding the right evidence

IPPO is also establishing the most effective ways of gathering evidence and filtering it for the use of policymakers.

In September 2023, the team launched a series of public, online events on new methods for mobilising evidence for greatest impact, to guide researchers, policymakers and intermediaries.

Our events have included sessions on digital tools, rapid evidence assessments, systems mapping, the transferability of evidence, using evidence during a crisis, and including lived experience in analyses of how policy can solve socioeconomic problems.

Earlier this year, IPPO also ran its first knowledge exchange winter school to bring together civil servants from Northern Ireland and a selection of expert speakers.

There is much still to do. But by acting as a bridge between research evidence and the policymakers who can use it to better inform their decision making, IPPO aims to benefit the British public and particularly disadvantaged groups.

For more information about IPPO, or if any of these topics are relevant to your work, please visit our website or get in touch.

Sarah O’Meara, IPPO/Communications and Engagement Manager, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.