Damp Housing

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I apologise to members, as I will have to leave early to attend an event that I agreed to chair some time ago.

Like other members, I am grateful to Foysol Choudhury for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I will also plug a housing summit that I am hosting in the Parliament about the housing crisis in Edinburgh—I know that some members have already signed up to it—that will look at scarcity, overcrowding and dilapidation. I look forward to seeing some members there.

I acknowledge the unspeakably tragic loss of Awaab Ishak, who was just two years old when he died. The appalling conditions in his family’s home should never have had to be endured, and his death must serve as a wake-up call highlighting how deeply important it is to fix the state of housing in the United Kingdom. A home must be a place of safety and solace. It is a space where loved ones can gather, relish the joys of life and find peace. No matter the size or price, whether rented or owned, someone’s home should be a comforting presence in their life. All too often, that is not the case.

The right to adequate shelter is a fundamental human right that is recognised in both domestic and international law. However, frankly, the rapid deterioration of housing conditions has threatened that right for thousands of families across Scotland. The latest Scottish house condition survey found that 40,000 homes in Scotland failed the tolerable standard threshold—that is 2 per cent of all dwellings in Scotland. Once characterised by warmth and safety, countless Scottish homes have now been plunged into damp, dilapidation and mould. Any such home is a real risk to health, as we have heard many times in the debate, and those dire conditions have led to a material negative impact on the wellbeing of many of our constituents.

Far too many of my constituents, many of whom live in areas of extreme deprivation, have contacted my office seeking assistance with the condition of their homes. I know that I am not alone in that; we have heard some of that in the debate. They include Bobbie, whose flat has been covered in mould for months, which has made her young children sick as a result; or Karen, a woman with pre-existing respiratory problems who, because of high levels of mould in her house, is struggling to breathe in her own home. Constituents such as Karen and Bobbie tell me about the impacts that that mould has had on not just their physical health but their mental health. They are racked with anxiety about their safety and that of their loved ones inside their own homes.

I know many of my parliamentary colleagues have had similar conversations in their constituencies. Cases such as those of Karen and Bobbie are all too common. Frankly, that is not acceptable. It is incumbent on us in the Parliament and it is our duty as public servants to use every tool that is at our disposal to solve the crisis.

As the tragic case of Awaab Ishak painfully demonstrated, we cannot afford to wait. First, the Government must recognise and rectify the hollowing out of Scottish communities and the slashing of council budgets. Those cuts have left local authorities without the ability to provide widespread high-quality housing for their most vulnerable constituents. Addressing that must be a top priority for the new SNP-Green Administration. It would greatly aid in fixing council-owned properties in a dire state.

My amendment in the cost of living and child poverty debate this Tuesday called for the Government to take on the Liberal Democrats’ plan for an emergency home insulation programme that would save more that £700 million for Scottish families that are in social housing and private lets. Regrettably, the amendment was voted down.

The skyrocketing energy costs this winter led to seven in 10 Scots reporting that they would heat their home less than they normally would, which undoubtedly contributes further to mould and exacerbates the housing crisis.

The SNP must commit to being honest with the country, and I hope that our new housing minister will join a cross-party conversation that acknowledges the shortcomings of previous Government strategies, and that he agrees with me that concrete action needs to be taken urgently to address this pressing issue. Then, and only then, can Scottish families live in the safety and solace that they deserve.