I thank my friend and Lothian MSP colleague Foysol Choudhury for securing this important debate. As Ben Macpherson has outlined, I hope that the debate provides the opportunity for Edinburgh and Lothian MSPs to really push the Government on this issue, which is really important to our constituents. I also welcome both ministers to their positions.
We all know the negative impact that poor housing can have on people’s health—individuals and families. The Royal College of General Practitioners briefing for the debate made a number of important points about the real, direct impact that poor housing has not just in terms of housing but on our health service, too. We need to look at the matter holistically across our public services, because cold, damp homes make people ill. General practitioners are often approached by patients—I have worked with GPs on this—who have concerns about their housing and are trying to move out of those homes. They are looking for supporting letters to be able to achieve that through a housing association or a private tenancy. Those are important issues that we also need to consider.
As the Crisis briefing for today’s debate states, Scotland has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe. One in five homes were built more than a century ago, so ensuring that homes are healthy, safe and energy efficient presents a huge challenge to us all. We have to recognise that, in Scotland, about 40,000 homes that people are living in fall below tolerable standards—that was the 2019 figure from the Scottish house condition survey.
Replies to recent freedom of information requests that I have sent to local authorities have shown that a number of incidents involving the reporting of mould and damp, especially during the pandemic, have not been addressed. Foysol Choudhury made some important points in his opening speech in that regard. Along with other Edinburgh MSPs, I recently met the Edinburgh Tenants Federation. The standard of repairs that we are seeing is totally unacceptable. People are reporting cases of mould and damp, but it is just being painted over. Literally within hours, the problem is re-emerging. How we make sure that repairs take place, rather than the damp being painted over, is key. Ben Macpherson touched on that, and I hope that the housing bill might present an opportunity to address the matter. We also need to make sure that there is qualitative work, because there is not enough of that.
I welcome the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations’ briefing, which makes some positive points about the work that it, along with the Scottish Housing Regulator, has undertaken to try to make sure that standards are improving. It points specifically to a practical guide that it has developed with housing professionals to make sure that housing associations respond to incidents of mould and damp and that specific standards are put in place.
The United Kingdom Government is perhaps slightly ahead of us in that regard. Michael Gove has taken a good lead on the issue, and there is a shared need for us to look at it. Awaab’s law will make sure that there are specific laws and protocols relating to how damp and mould are reported, to the time limits that people should expect for inspections and work to take place, and to people being removed from homes that are unfit for habitation. It is important that we develop Scottish standards on that as soon as possible.
I know that I have only a few seconds of my time left. I recently lodged a written question for the Scottish Government, which Shona Robison responded to. She said:
“The Scottish Government does not have a reporting system in place to track incidents of damp and mould”—[
, 10 January 2023; S6W-12614.]
in homes in Scotland. We need to rectify that, and I hope that the minister will take that away. I welcome the fact that he is reaching out to all parties and spokespeople on the matter, and I look forward to taking the issue forward. I hope that we can have a wider debate on the issue in Government time in the coming weeks.