Did you know that 4 in every 10 households in Scotland live in fuel poverty? Or that children all across Scotland are growing up cold, affecting their physical and mental health, their educational attainment and their life chances? This won’t do. We may have chilly weather and lots of old houses, but no one in Scotland should have to suffer the effects of living in a damp, draughty, poorly-insulated house.
That’s why I’m proud that WWF Scotland has teamed with over 50 civic organisation in a powerful coalition that’s calling on the Scottish Government to end the scourge of the country’s cold homes within a decade by helping all homes to reach a C energy rating. The group, ranging from the Child Poverty Action Group, to the Royal College of GPs, to SCDI (the Scottish Council for Development & Industry), to the Institution of Civil Engineers, believes that a long-term approach to improving the energy efficiency of Scotland’s buildings is both necessary and achievable.
It was great to see the Scottish Government announce its intention to make home energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority in June this year. And it was great to see all the main party leaders in Scotland support the principle of this kind of approach. Insulating our cold homes deserves the same focus and clarity of purpose that we give to spanning the Forth Estuary or building the new Borders Railway. But this commitment needs to be developed – we now need to see concrete proposals and clear goals from the Scottish Government to make this happen. This means a goal of making all homes a C standard by 2025 backed up with major long-term funding in Scotland’s capital budget and elsewhere to support investment in energy efficiency.
The multiple organisations from all walks of civic and business life in Scotland supporting this call may seem like a motley crew at first, but the breadth of the coalition stems from the vast benefits that energy efficiency upgrades can deliver across our economy and society. We’ve gathered lots of evidence to show that investing wisely and extensively in improving the energy rating of our housing stock can help create jobs, prevent ill-health, cut fuel bills and fuel poverty. Crucially, it can help tackle our climate change emissions too – around half of which come from heating our buildings and our water in Scotland.
Energy efficiency is a huge economic opportunity to build a stronger economy and a more just Scotland. Research shows that bringing all homes to at least a C standard would create 8-9,000 jobs a year distributed across communities in Scotland, new training and skills development opportunities, and offer an excellent return on investment in generating employment and economic growth compared to other infrastructure investments.
Upgrading our housing stock can also cut fuel bills by up to £400 a year, helping many struggling in fuel poverty. Making all homes a C standard would provide a practical, preventative approach to addressing ill-health and poor mental health in Scotland, reducing costs to the NHS by between £48m and £80m a year and improving the health and life chances of Scotland most vulnerable people. It can help to tackle conditions such as heart disease, strokes and flu and mental health problems, all of which can be aggravated by living in a cold home, and help to reduce the risk of illness and death among older people, young children and those with a disability.
Ending cold homes in Scotland in a decade is no small task. It means around 127,000 homes need to be upgraded each year. It means hundreds of millions of pounds of public investment and even more private sector investment annually. It means the Scottish Government, local authorities, NGOs, the construction and housing sectors and other businesses working with householders right across Scotland to design a programme that works for our climate, our housing stock and the people living here.
But the rewards on offer for getting this right are too big not to take on this challenge with gusto. Everyone in Scotland should have the right to live in a warm home. We now need a clear plan for making that happen.
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