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Research project launched to examine human impact of fire

29 March 2022

IN CONJUNCTION with the Centre for Economics and Business Research and founding member Aico, the Housing Safety and Well-Being Task Force is conducting a seminal piece of research into the human impact of fire and how the different legislations presently in existence across the four home nations affect the prevalence of fire.

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’s an inevitable divergence in key regulations and legislation. The most pronounced tightening of restrictions has been in Scotland, where there’s now a requirement to have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in all dwellings. This was mandated as of February 2022.

In the other nations, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are only required in properties under certain types of tenure.

Tightening of the rules 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 from occurring, and ultimately, the loss of life.

Research to date

The key findings unearthed by the research to date are extremely interesting. 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 net cost to the economy of fire incidents, a significant saving has been seen in Scotland. If England were to witness a reduction in costs at the same relative scale as Scotland, this would amount to £243 million of savings per annum.

The aggregate cost of dwelling fires amounted to £1.1 billion in 2019-2020 after adjusting for inflation. Those individuals classed as being lower-income are a staggering 60% more likely than those in higher-income groups to face serious fire hazards in their homes. Of those individuals who’ve experienced a fire, 18.7% have reported subsequent psychological trauma. This represents an estimated 957,000 adults.

Individuals with children younger than five years’ old are 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 also fuel poverty, many commentators feel that the Government needs to address not just the subject of fire safety standards, but also housing well-being.

Given those potential savings of up to £243 million per annum, this money could then be spent on helping those who currently live in unsafe homes due to the cladding crisis or those who are struggling with household essentials.

Key issues

Launched back in January, the Housing Safety and Well-Being Task Force 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 and healthier homes and making recommendations for action.

The Task Force’s framework will enable all involved to work together on a collaborative basis. The organisation is strictly non-commercial and non-partisan, while also being fully committed to promoting an holistic approach towards housing safety and resident well-being.

Speaking at the launch of the Housing Safety and Well-Being Task Force, Sir Peter Bottomley (MP for Worthing West and Father of the House) stated: “One way or another, we need to make buildings safe from carbon monoxide and also from the dangers posed by fire in general. We have perhaps contributed to allowing a bad situation to continue for far too long now and I welcome finding the best way forward.”