Housing Safety & Wellbeing Taskforce launch research into human impact of fire

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, and Father of the House, had this to say at the Housing Safety & Wellbeing Taskforce (HSWT) Launch:

“One way or another we need to make buildings safe, that’s carbon monoxide and fire dangers. We have perhaps contributed to allowing a bad situation to continue for too long and I welcome finding the way forward”

Domestic fire safety legislation is a crucial regulatory field to ensure that buildings are safe for habitation and that fire safety risks are adequately managed. However, due to several factors legislation and policies vary starkly between the constituent nations of the UK.

As fire safety is a matter which is devolved to the UK’s constituent nations, there is an inevitable divergence in key regulations and legislation. The most pronounced tightening of restrictions has been in Scotland, where there will now be a requirement to have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in all dwellings from February 2022. In the other nations, these pieces of equipment are only required in properties under certain types of tenure.

This tightening of restrictions in Scotland has led to a downward trend of fire instances over the last four years and, most importantly a reduction in fire fatalities of 47.5% between 2019 and 2020.

The human impact of fire needs to be considered alongside the education outreach to prevent fires occurring and ultimately, the loss of life.

The key findings from the research are:

  • The cost of each fire has reduced by 41.5% in Scotland, compared with 23.2% and 24.4% in England and Wales respectively.
  • Accounting for additional investment, balanced against the Nett cost to the economy of fire incidents, significant saving has been seen in Scotland. If England saw reduction in costs at the same relative scale as Scotland, this would amount to £243 million of savings per year.
  • The aggregate cost of dwelling fires amounted to £1.1 billion in 2019/20 after adjusting for inflation.
  • Those classed as lower-income are a staggering 60% more likely than higher-income groups to face serious fire hazards in their homes.
  • Those to have ever experienced a fire, 18.7% reported subsequent psychological trauma. This represents an estimated 957,000 adults.
  • Individuals with children younger than five years’ old were the most likely to have experienced trauma in the aftermath of a fire, amounting to 31.8% of those in this category.

With the cost-of-living crisis potentially pushing families into poorer quality accommodation and into fuel poverty the government needs to address not just the fire safety standards but housing wellbeing. With potential savings of up to £243m a year this money can be spent helping those who currently live in unsafe homes due to the cladding crisis or those who are struggling with household essentials.

“I was 10 years old when the fire occurred in my Mum’s house. I had nightmares for months even though it wasn’t a serious fire, and even now 50 years on I have to get up during the night if I think that I smell smoke”

The Housing Safety & Wellbeing Taskforce, launched in January 2022, brings together partners from the public, private, and charitable sectors across all nations of the UK to discuss the key issues involved in creating safer, healthier homes, and making recommendations for action. The Taskforce framework will enable all involved to work together collaboratively, and the organisation will be strictly non-commercial and non-partisan, committed to promoting a holistic approach to housing safety and resident wellbeing.

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