Guest Editorial: Fighting social isolation and tackling fire safety

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Welcome return today for David Stewart MSP and his update for insideMORAY readers on activities at the Scottish Parliament…..

ON JANUARY 18 I took part in an excellent debate in the Scottish Parliament on tackling social isolation and loneliness.

Many MSPs referred in the debate to the tragedy of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, and the loneliness commission that was set up to tackle the issue that she cared about so passionately.

The commission’s recommendation was that there should be a Minister responsible for a national strategy to combat loneliness – a recommendation which has been accepted by the Prime Minister.

I have personal work experience of loneliness and social isolation. In my early 20s, I volunteered with the Samaritans in my home city of Inverness. Many of the calls that I took on my day shift or overnight were from desperately sad and lonely people, some of whom also had physical and mental health problems.

Many people assume this is an issue faced either solely or predominately by older people, but in reality, it can affect any age, gender or class. On a personal level, I was inspired by my volunteering; I trained as a social worker, which led to a 16-year career including specialised training on mental health.

Loneliness and social isolation have been well documented as affecting physical, as well as mental health. They lead to greater risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, alcohol consumption and smoking, lower levels of physical exercise and a substantial increase in the chances of dementia among older people.

On top of that, the chances of suffering from isolation and loneliness are greatly exacerbated by social and economic inequalities. As a result, tackling this public health challenge head on is absolutely key to building a better Scotland.

David Stewart MSP

In this area, the likelihood of feeling cut off from society is not helped by the squeeze on public services. People who live in isolated rural and super-rural areas already have more limited access to support networks, family and friends, local groups or charities, and the situation is made worse with poor public transport links.

Accessibility and affordability are key factors, but the withdrawal of more and more rural bus services for example only emphasise the region’s remoteness. That said, there are some excellent local charities whose objective is to mitigate isolation and loneliness. For example, Moray Voluntary befriending Service to name but one.

In the last Parliamentary term, The Equal Opportunities Committee reported on Social Isolation which was the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The committee found that social isolation and loneliness was a major problem in Scotland, and recommended that the Government developed a national strategy to tackle it.

The Government have set up a consultation as part of this strategy which is open until 27 April 2018 and I would encourage everyone to contribute.

Fire Sprinklers

I recently launched the consultation stage of my proposed members bill to make the installation of automatic sprinklers mandatory in all new-build social housing.

The proposed law would place a duty on local authorities and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) to install automatic fire suppression systems into all newly constructed social housing.

Sprinkler systems have proven to be highly effective at preventing the spread of fires and the destruction they cause, with no case of multiple fire deaths in Scotland where automatic fire suppression systems have been installed.

My proposal has commenced with a consultation period that will run until 16th April this year, and will also seek views on what action can be taken to retrofit sprinkler systems into existing high-rise social housing stock.

The issue of fire safety has been more prominent over the last year for the most tragic of reasons. It is clear that lawmakers must take all of the action necessary to ensure the public are safe and my proposed bill aims to help do that.

I encourage as many members of public as possible to engage with my consultation and give their views on this important issue.