Cold homes scandal should shame Scotland into action – Scotsman comment

Fuel poverty is a killer. Excess winter mortality figures – 1,320 people in 2021/22 – are an imperfect guide but give an idea of the scale of the problem.

Cold, damp, mouldy homes make people sick, with children, elderly people and those with chronic health problems at particular risk. In a society worthy of the name, it should be unacceptable that anyone is effectively forced to live in such conditions.

So it is to our enormous shame that it has taken the climate emergency and then a cost-of-living crisis driven by soaring energy prices for the country to start treating the issue with sufficient seriousness. After decades of relative inaction, the scale of the challenge we are now attempting to face has grown to daunting proportions.

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New figures show that more than half of recently inspected rented homes would fail to meet a proposed new energy efficiency standard due to come into force in just two years. And, as Rachelle Earwaker, a senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, spelt out, homes with poor energy efficiency ratings are colder, damper and “much more expensive to heat”. “At the moment in the energy crisis, that has had a massive impact,” she added.

So there is a powerful moral case for government to adopt bold, imaginative policies and to launch a ground-breaking drive to insulate homes to much higher standards. It is all very well setting targets that sound good, but there has to be a serious plan to achieve them.

Chris Norris, of the National Residential Landlords Association, pointed out that the cost of improvements “has to be met in some way”, suggesting that tenants might ultimately foot the bill. Some landlords, he added, “might have to sell that property because they just can't do the work and still let it at a rate that people can afford to live in”.

Despite the weather, homes in the UK are among the least well-insulated in Europe. Recognising that this is a serious problem is one thing, doing something about it is quite another. But there should be no doubt that action must be taken. If every home is a well-insulated one, people will be healthier, wealthier and, doubtless, considerably happier. That alone, even aside from the pressing need to cut carbon emissions, should be reason enough.



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