I, too, thank Foysol Choudhury for securing the debate, and I hope that it will be instrumental in getting this issue the priority that it deserves.
Others have already spoken about the death of Awaab Ishak. It was a tragedy but, sadly, it was not a one-off. His parents fought bravely to have their housing issues recognised and to protect their child, and I am sad to say that they also had to fight to have the cause of his death properly recorded. That took strength.
I fear that, if all deaths due to damp and mouldy homes were recorded appropriately, the numbers would be huge. We all have cases of families coming to us, complaining of damp in their homes. All too often, they are told that it is down to their drying washing indoors, and their concerns are not taken seriously. “Putting Safety First: a briefing note on damp and mould for social housing practitioners” states:
“Responding to damp and mould primarily or initially as a lifestyle problem is inappropriate and ineffective.”
Indeed, that was reflected in the Housing Ombudsman’s report into the social landlord responsible for Awaab Ishak’s death. It takes effort and persistence to get a different approach taken and to get concerns taken seriously.
Housing problems are going to get worse, because of the cost of living crisis. People can no longer afford to heat their homes adequately and, as a result, damp is much more likely. The Highlands and Islands has the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country. The climate means that homes need year-round heating, and people do not have the luxury of being able to turn off the heating in the summer. The Scottish Government must therefore revisit the winter heating payment. It is unacceptable that people who have to have their heating on year round receive the same amount as those who can switch theirs off over the summer.
The Scottish Government must also look at its other schemes such as the boiler replacement and insulation schemes, which do nothing for off-gas-grid properties. They have been designed for urban housing schemes, not draughty old croft houses. It is sad that such ignorance on the part of the Scottish Government is actively stopping intervention instead of putting it in place.
Moreover, there is no point installing heat pumps in homes that have poor or no insulation. The Scottish Government must start by retrofitting old homes to make them energy efficient and then look at heating solutions. Of course, we need to stop reliance on fossil fuels, but the only way of doing that is by providing workable alternatives, which must start with cutting the amount of fuel needed to heat a home.
The Scottish Government is not doing that in the areas with the highest fuel poverty. Policy devised for rural areas works everywhere, whereas policy designed in urban areas does not transfer easily to rural parts. I urge those in the Government to get out from behind their desks and look at the reality of the impact of these policies on rural Scotland, because our young people should be able to grow up healthy and happy in warm homes.