HC Deb 02 December 1997 vol 302 cc150-1
7. Sir Robert Smith

What representations the Scottish Health Department has received since October about the links between poor housing conditions and public health. [17096]

Mr. Galbraith

Since October, 127 representations have been addressed to the Department, almost all in response to a campaign by Shelter. The links between housing and health are clear, as our forthcoming Green Paper on the subject will mention.

Sir Robert Smith

I thank the Minister for that answer. In the light of the representations and the fact that 93 per cent. of Scottish housing is below minimum energy efficiency standards, does he accept that, in the long run, investing in improving the housing stock will benefit the health service by reducing the winter health crisis?

Mr. Galbraith

I have absolutely no problem with that. Poor housing is undoubtedly one of the links to ill health. We recognise that. It will be re-emphasised in our Green Paper. Recently, however, we have taken measures to deal with the problem. We have reduced value added tax on materials for insulating houses from 17.5 to 5 per cent. and the welfare-to-work programme contains a special option to insulate houses. We are taking action that will benefit the health of the whole nation.

Mr. McAllion

My hon. Friend will accept that the statistics on the relationship between poor housing and poor health in Scotland are appalling. Ninety-seven per cent. of our stock failed a national energy efficiency rating, one in four houses suffer from damp and condensation and, every winter, there are 2,000 excess deaths as a result of poor housing in Scotland. Does my hon. Friend therefore accept that the link between bad housing and bad health in Scotland will never be finally broken until the Labour Government have the courage to recognise that we require a major programme of public investment in housing stock and in tackling the reasons for poverty, which cause so much ill health in our country?

Mr. Galbraith

I like to think that one of the differences that I have made to the health agenda is the recognition of the link between poverty and ill health, something that was always denied before. The problem relates not only to housing but to jobs, education, transport, leisure and recreation. Only when we have got these things right can people genuinely make choices, so we have not only to present them with information about the choices but to give them the economic wherewithal to improve their health.