DEBATE: Should the government be funding an energy saving advice campaign?

Andy Mayer and Reem Ibrahim

December 16, 2022

Andy Mayer, Chief Operating Officer and Energy Analyst at the Institute of Economic Affairs argues YES

When the Government is spending £80-100bn on subsidising energy bills, spending a further £15m on promoting ways to reduce energy use is not a terrible idea. It need only have a 0.02% impact, beyond what people would do regardless, to reduce overall spending. This does not seem a high bar, even for a Government information campaign.

All the criticisms of such campaigns are also correct. They replicate what is already available, can be tinged with ideology, give poor generic advice, and interfere with matters best left to the market. But when matters haven’t been left to the market (oh boy, energy is a statist mess right now), it’s a judgement call on whether it does more good than harm.

It doesn’t strike me as unreasonable to think that reminding people about how boilers work, and how much can be saved by turning down thermostats or investing in insulation will have some impact, although I suspect it will be a lot less than the effect of high prices.

I don’t agree with the Insulate Britain loons and their enablers in the ‘sealed box’ lobby that a Stalinist 30 year plan for state-enforced home improvements is required for Net Zero. But this is an education campaign. Would it be better paid for by the companies hawking heat pumps and thermal underwear for houses, sure, and that should be the norm when these idiotic price controls end.

Until then it’s a reminder of the Government’s hopeless inability to understand their own actions, crippling secure supplies at home, forcing up costs, and trying to hide the outcome with price controls. As such, they’re now reduced to the tactics of the 1970s, pleading with grandma to put on another jumper while Arctic weather blasts the silent wind farms failing to keep her warm. Nothing undermines socialism like socialism.


Reem Ibrahim, political commentator and student at the London School of Economics, argues NO

The government’s energy saving TV advert is nothing more than taxpayer-funded nanny statism. Throwing a further £18 million at an ad campaign to tell people to turn off appliances when they are not in use is not only patronising, but will also prove ineffective.

This campaign is a direct consequence of the government’s socialist energy policy. The Energy Price Guarantee has capped the amount per unit of energy that suppliers can charge consumers, meaning that a typical bill remains at £2,500. Consumers are shielded from higher prices by this policy, meaning that there is not the same incentive to reduce energy consumption in the same capacity as there otherwise would be.

This is a classic example of ratchet government intervention. Whether you are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis, or living comfortably, your energy bill is being subsidised by the government. Yes, even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with an estimated net worth of over £730 million, has his energy bills subsidised by the taxpayer. Rather than targeting financial support to those who need it most, the government has taken a blanket approach to the energy crisis, costing the taxpayer an estimated average £630 per household.

For the majority of low-income UK households, the savings made by turning off radiators in unoccupied rooms, or reducing the boiler temperature, are relatively miniscule. Any methods to reduce energy use by low-income households are already being done, without the government telling them to. For those with more money, the energy price guarantee means that there is no financial incentive to significantly reduce energy consumption. According to a study of 86 countries from researchers at Leeds University, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population consume about 20 times as much energy as the poorest 10%. Energy consumed by luxuries, like turning on the heated swimming pool, is subsidised by the energy price guarantee. An advert will not change incentives, but ceasing to intervene with the price mechanism will.

Liz Truss was right to call the ad campaign “nannying”. It is a direct consequence of government intervention in the price mechanism. People know how to reduce energy consumption, they do not need the nanny state to tell them.

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