Net Zero plans to switch Britain over to electric vehicles risks a political backlash from low-income voters who are reluctant to pay for the charging points needed to support the new vehicles, new research warns today.
Polling research by the Social Market Foundation think-tank found that voters from lower socio-economic groups are significantly less likely than better off voters to be willing to pay for new EV charging infrastructure and would need targeted support to ensure they are not left behind in the shift to Net Zero.
From 2030, sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned as ministers try to accelerate the switch to electric vehicles. That will require not just the deployment of millions of charging points at homes, but the installation of hundreds of thousands of public chargers in residential streets, carparks and workplaces.
The SMF, a cross-party think-tank, also warned that housing tenure could become a dividing line, with those in rented accommodation less likely to be able to install or access reliable charging for an EV.
Complaints about costs and access to charging could create resentments that put public support for the Net Zero carbon agenda at risk. “The perception of unfairness is a grave threat to the mass adoption of electric vehicles,” the SMF said. The Competition and Markets Authority is currently undertaking a market study into consumer confidence in the electric vehicles market.
The SMF has analysed the politics and policy options of the switch to EVs in a new report from its Towards Net Zero project, which is sponsored by ScottishPower.
The SMF said that if the costs and disruption of the EV transition fall too heavily on people who feel no benefit – because they cannot afford an EV or access convenient and affordable charging for one – public consent for Net Zero will be dangerously weakened. UK policymakers must avoid repeating mistakes that led to the rise of populist protest movements such as the gilets jaunes in France, the SMF said.
There are estimated to be around 36,000 public charging points in the UK. Based on data from the International Council on Clean Transport the SMF calculates that around 600,000 new public, workplace and rapid chargers would be required by 2030 for the updated ban on new petrol-diesel cars.
SMF/Opinium polling reveals that attitudes towards funding new EV charging infrastructure vary significantly by social class and income – people from low-income groups reported much more resistance to paying:
- 32% of respondents from the ABC1 socio-economic group said they would support being obliged to pay towards the costs of new charging infrastructure, with 35% opposed. Among respondents from the C2DE socio-economic group, the balance of opinion tilts much more clearly against paying: 19% said the public should be obliged to fund charging points, with 47% opposed.
- 57% of ABC1 respondents support banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, compared to 43% of people in the C2DE classes.
The polling also underlines how housing will be a potential dividing line in the EV transition. Over a third of renters (35%) reported it was not possible to install a chargepoint near their home. Only 17% of owner-occupiers said the same.
Amy Norman, Researcher at the SMF and author of the report, said:
“Rolling out new EV charging infrastructure is going to be pivotal if the UK wants to successfully decarbonise private transport. Ensuring charging is affordable, accessible and convenient for everyone – irrespective of income, housing or where someone lives – will be necessary for maintaining public and political support for Net Zero.”
“The Government is right to be ambitious with its 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles but it needs to be equally ambitious with support offered to low-income households and areas where the market is failing to provide. Targeted support – like demand-side subsidies for low-income groups and supply-side locally coordinated delivery plans for public chargepoints – could ensure no one is left behind in the green economy Britain needs
“Politicians must also level with voters about who is going to bear the costs of new EV charging infrastructure and grid reinforcement. Whether households pay though higher bills or through their taxes, the funding of Britain’s shift to EVs should be clear to all.
“Reaching Net Zero will deliver great benefits, but the journey will require some tough choices and some costs. Unless those choices are made clearly and fairly, there will be scope for some voters to feel unfairly treated. That feeling could undermine the whole Net Zero project.”
Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of ScottishPower, said:
“The UK needs to prepare for a mass take-up of electric vehicles that is already well underway. As of today, more than one in ten new vehicles sold is electric. As this report makes clear, that number will grow exponentially over the next decade as the Government’s deadline for a ban on petrol and diesel engines approaches fast.
“Anticipating this increasing demand means investing in the grid infrastructure to support the millions of private chargepoints that will be installed on people’s driveways across the country, as well as developing a network of public use charging facilities that provides fair access for everyone to lower cost EV chargers. On its own, the market is less likely to reach urban streets where off-street parking isn’t an option, or our more remote rural communities. We need to make sure that everyone – not just wealthy high streets and leafy suburban avenues – feels the benefits.
“Now is the time to accelerate our investment in this critical infrastructure. To make that happen, government, industry and Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, need to be aligned on the necessary measures to stimulate and incentivise investment.”
- For media requests, please contact SMF Impact Officer, Linus Pardoe – email@example.com – 07402 576995
- The report, Together in Electric Dreams?, is published at 07:00 on Monday 8th March at smf.co.uk/publications/electric-dreams
- This research is sponsored by ScottishPower and draws upon a private roundtable held in Autumn 2020 and attended by experts, government and opposition politicians, and industry stakeholders. The SMF retains full editorial independence of this and all of its publications.