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Housing Energy Efficiency

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:54 am on 30th March 2000.

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Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 11:54 am, 30th March 2000

That is a good point—Tricia is right.

If energy efficiency becomes a significant selling point, new homes will be built with it in mind and existing home owners will have more incentive to invest in efficient central heating boilers, double glazing, insulation, solar panels and so on. The recent amendment of the building regulations to require higher standards is welcome and will have an impact, but only on new housing. Our energy efficiency standards are still lower than those of most northern European countries.

Local authorities need to be able to fund substantial home improvement grants for environmentally effective measures, targeted at the worst stock regardless of whether it is rented or owner-occupied, to encourage people living in below standard properties to upgrade them. Better support should also be given to the voluntary organisations that help people make improvements to their homes when they are too elderly or infirm for do-it-yourself or cannot afford to pay tradesmen. The people who are least able to afford heating usually live in the hardest to heat homes and have the most expensive and inefficient heating systems and payment methods. More than a third of Scottish households suffer fuel poverty and well over 100,000 households suffer extreme fuel poverty—they spend more than a fifth of their income on fuel.

Fuel poverty could be tackled by raising incomes—a good idea for pensioners—or by reducing fuel prices, which would be a good idea for me. Neither would meet environmental concerns. To do that, we need to make homes easier to keep warm for the same or less money and fuel. Failure to tackle the waste of energy involved in trying to keep damp and poorly insulated houses warm has consequences for us all; an estimated 14 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions come from the domestic sector.

According to Energy Action Scotland, the Government estimates the cost of personal subsidies for fuel consumption—cold weather payments, winter fuel payments to pensioners and so on—as £3.6 billion over the next three years. Over the same period, spending on property improvement will be £1.2 billion—about a third of that subsidy—and it will treat only the symptoms, not the disease.

Money spent on bringing Scotland's housing stock up to an acceptable standard of thermal efficiency would be money well spent. The cost to Scotland of damp, cold homes is enormous. The cost of treating illness is estimated at about £1 billion a year. We must add to that the economic cost of days taken off work through illness and loss of productivity. A less obvious cost is the waste of human potential. Children cannot study properly if they do not have a reasonably warm and quiet place at home to do so; older people become less active and their quality of life deteriorates; and, to put it brutally, many older people die.

Mortality in the Scandinavian countries is roughly the same throughout the year. In Scotland, the death rate rises by more than 30 per cent in winter. Could that be because the average Scottish house scores only four out of 10 for energy efficiency and because a quarter of our housing is damp or affected by condensation? The problem is huge, but we know what the solutions are, that they would save money, that they would bring other benefits and that they would help us meet environmental targets. We should get on with it.