“One parent described the family as living in one room” : Shocking Report on Housing & Heating in Orkney

During this dreadful coronavirus pandemic our Third Sector organisations have shown just how valuable they are in the work they do within our communities.

HomeStart Orkney held its AGM on Wednesday 23rd of June and attendees heard first hand from Erika Copland, Senior Co-ordinator, of the way the organisation had to adapt in order to be able to provide increasing amounts of support to families in Orkney.

Erika said that it had been a very testing year for HomeStart and they had to quickly adapt especially to the use of technology when the islands went into lockdown. Coming together face-to-face was still important and as restrictions eased, they moved as quickly as they could to provide support, outdoors then finally within homes. The use of technology also enabled them to reach more families, for instance in the outer isles.

HomeStart Orkney decided to research, through a survey, how families were coping with their housing and heating needs. Before the pandemic took hold many families in Orkney were already facing challenges with rising food and electricity prices.

We were all confined to our homes, allowed out only for daily exercise or to buy essential shopping. For many, their home is their sanctuary, their safe place. But this is not the case for all – certainly not for those who live daily with domestic abuse. And also not for those who are living in inadequate housing, as we know many of Home-Start Orkney’s supported families are.

HomeStart Housing and Heating Report2021

The report is startling and should be required reading for all of Orkney’s elected representatives.

Key Findings of HomeStart Report

There have been several ‘surveys’ about what a great place Orkney is to live in [ Happiest Places to Live]. This is the case for some people, especially those with the income to live comfortably. For increasing numbers of islanders, however, inadequate housing, living in fuel and food poverty is the reality. Lockdown also meant many workers were furloughed and some lost their jobs.

60% of those who completed HomeStart’s Housing and Heating survey live in social housing., 30% are with private landlords.

  • Over 90% cited electricity costs as an issue
  • Nearly 50% were experiencing dampness and mould
  • Just over 30% revealed that their home has poor insulation

It is well known that inadequate housing is linked to poor mental and physical health.

people are flourishing when they have a combination of high levels of mental health which is reflected in emotional well-being, psychological wellbeing, and social well-being. Achieving a flourishing population, therefore, demands not just that we improve physical health but also that all individuals and communities feel supported to grow in emotional, psychological and social wellbeing.

Prof Sir Garry Burns Targets and Indicators in Health and Social Care in Scotland- Review

In Orkney, we have families whose rented accommodation is damp, mouldy, drafty and with poor insulation. To keep warm when electricity costs are high in comparison to income, families have to crowd into one room. The one room that they can afford to keep heated. Shockingly these conditions exist in rented council properties. The worst properties were those in the private rental sector.

One parent described the family as living in one room, as not only was that all they could afford to heat, but the other rooms were in such a poor condition with damp and mould, that she worried constantly for her young children’s health, and that the stress and anxiety were affecting the parent’s relationship.

HomeStart Housing and Heating Report 2021

HomeStart didn’t just compile a report. They support families and working with THAW Orkney they were able to do that by:

• Distributing grants to help meet electricity costs
• Distributing grants to enable families to purchase dehumidifiers
• Referring families to THAW Orkney
• Writing to the relevant housing authority highlighting living conditions
• Contacting local councillors

Robert Leslie from THAW commented that some of the cases they had dealt with over last winter were shocking. You can read about the work of THAW here: THAW Orkney: Supporting Islanders With Their Energy Costs and Save Fuel Poverty Charity THAW Orkney

There were several councillors in attendance at the HomeStart AGM which was held online. Let’s hope that the message got through to them and that it reaches those councillors who were not present.

Many of Orkney’s Third Sector organisations are facing funding challenges, see the item about THAW above and more recently Advocacy Orkney ‘Morale Boost’ for Advocacy Orkney as Islanders Show Support

All of these excellent organisations are providing the safety nets catching those being failed by our systems. All they can do, however, is provide short term aid to people living in challenging situations in their daily lives.

Families, and others, are living in these situations daily, and there is a proven impact on both mental and physical wellbeing. The real solution lies in ensuring that people’s homes are well insulated, and free from damp, mould, and other issues. It is only by tackling the root cause that a long-lasting impact will be felt.

HomeStart Orkney Housing and Heating Report 2021

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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