Winter deaths highlight ‘unacceptable’ failure to upgrade Scotland’s homes

fuel povertyFigures showing there were nearly 3,000 additional winter deaths last year show that Scotland’s cold and draughty housing stock must be upgraded as a matter of urgency, the Existing Homes Alliance has argued.

The annual Winter Mortality in Scotland report published yesterday by the Scottish Government revealed that 2,850 more people died in Scotland last winter when compared with the average for the rest of the year, the vast majority of whom were elderly.

While the seasonal increase in deaths was smaller than in most of the 64 previous winters, the figure still exceeded the level seen in 8 of the previous 10 winters.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 30 per cent of such deaths ‘additional’ are attributable to cold homes. While the report stated that improvements in home insulation and increasing central heating use had helped redress the relationship between cold winters and ill health, the Existing Homes Alliance said quick action must be taken to further tackle fuel poverty and protect the ill and vulnerable.

Scottish Ministers have pledged to make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority, but plans are still under development.

In the meantime, the Alliance is pressing for a more substantial financial commitment to be made and for much needed regulation to ensure that no-one in Scotland is forced to live in fuel poverty as a consequence of a cold and poorly-insulated home.

Lori McElroy, chair of the Existing Homes Alliance, said: “It remains a grave concern to us that the condition of many homes in Scotland is still leading to the death of ill and vulnerable people living in fuel poverty. The figures published today show the unacceptable cost of the status quo, and they must spur new action. The Scottish Government should set an objective of supporting all homes to reach a band C standard for energy performance by 2025 so that no one in the country is living in a cold and draughty home.

“We are pleased that this issue has continued to rise up the political agenda, but now is the time for the concerted effort that will be required to provide warm, healthy and affordable homes for all. We know how it can be done, and we know what it will cost. Given how many people are still dying needlessly every year, we want to work with Ministers and other political parties to drive down these figures.”

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, said: “Death rates often increase with colder weather, chiefly because of lower indoor temperatures and not wrapping up enough against the cold when going outside. Yet other countries with similar climates do consistently better in protecting their vulnerable citizens, and we must do more.

“Too many homes are colder than is either necessary or healthy for older people, often because of both substandard insulation and scandalously high energy bills. A Warm Homes Bill which reduces fuel poverty by incentivising improvements in energy efficiency, raising standards, and promoting shared heating is essential if we want to avoid another lengthy list of preventable loss of life next year.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the figures highlight the importance of everyone in the country having a warm home and repeated their manifesto pledge of investing around £1 billion by 2020/21 to ensure all properties achieve an EPC C rating or above by the end of the next decade.

Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “While additional winter deaths is something that’s been on a downwards trend for some time, the fact thousands are still losing their life is a concern.

“If everyone had a warm and easy-to-heat home, there’s no question these statistics would improve further.

“No-one in Scotland should have to die just because it’s winter, and we need to invest to make sure it doesn’t happen.

“The report acknowledges the contribution better insulation has made, and that’s why we have to keep going with it.

“By investing significantly over the next five years, as the Scottish Conservatives pledged to do, we would see a real difference on the ground.”

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