Investigating the State of Climate Justice within Housing Conditions in Ireland

To promote climate justice and provide universally healthy housing, policies must consider social inequalities beyond economic disparity when developing retrofit support initiatives

Aoife Murphy14/11/2023

Introduction:

During the final year of my bachelor’s degree at UCD, I was given the opportunity to research any matter of social injustice in depth for my capstone essay. I decided to explore the impact climate change can have on individuals within their day-to-day lives and how that can be compounded by existing inequalities within society. In the case of Ireland, one of the most pressing issues people battle with is housing. As such, with consideration of the impacts of climate change, I explored how gender, income, and family structure relate to housing conditions that are susceptible to mould and dampness, before investigating if and how these issues are addressed within the 2021 National Retrofit Plan.

Context:

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, precipitation in Ireland has already increased by 5 percent between 1981 and 2010. Researchers project that without successful mitigation, Autumn and Winter rainfalls may increase by approximately 20% by the period 2041 to 2060. Under these changes, Ireland will likely suffer from various socio-economic impacts caused by flooding, notably, property damage.

While matters of climate change are typically framed in societal terms, it is also important to consider how individuals within the home are affected.  Numerous studies correlate the meteorological effects of climate change with increased rates of indoor mould and dampness in temperate climates such as Ireland. For example, Norbäck et al. (2017) found that increases in yearly precipitation by 100mm were associated with equal increases in measurements of mould, dampness, and leakage indoors. Such findings are consistent across studies and add to the list of factors policymakers must consider as temperatures continue to rise.

Given the health risks linked to consistent mould and dampness exposure (namely respiratory problems such as wheeze, persistent cough, and asthma), limiting these issues within housing is essential. An individual’s health influences the extent to which they may participate in society. As such, if there are large social groups who are continuously and disproportionately exposed to health hazards in their home, they may face further issues of relative disadvantage elsewhere in life.

Findings:
My research carried two analytical components. First, a secondary analysis of data was carried out in order to identify unequal housing conditions across Ireland. A document analysis of the 2021 National Retrofit Plan (NRP) was then conducted through a feminist political economy framework. The below findings focus exclusively Survey on Income and Living Conditions data between 2010 and 2020. This analysis did not seek to uncover any causal relationships and instead focused on mapping correlations between socio-economic factors and damp housing.

In 2020, 16.6% of the Irish population lived with leaks, dampness, or rot in their home. Over the course of the last decade, men and women faced very similar rates of damp conditions at times, with just a 0.1 percentage difference in 2010. However, as table 1 shows, between 2013 and 2016 women were consistently more effected than men. During these years, figures for men peaked in 2013 at 13.9% before decreasing steadily. Figures for women began at 14.6% in 2013, before peaking at 15.4% in 2014, and lowering to 13.8% by 2016. Here, women’s relatively high rates of substandard housing conditions correlate with the latter years of Irish austerity. This is interesting given the numerous studies that highlight the impacts austerity can have on energy poverty rates and the subsequent risks of mould and dampness in inadequately heated homes. Additionally, the gendered impacts austerity measures can have on women in relation to housing has been well established across socioeconomic literature.

In considering how gender earnings of less than 60% of the median equivalised income (MEI) and exposure to substandard housing may intersect, table 2 shows that between 2010 and 2012 low-income males were more effected by indoor leaks, rot, and dampness than their female counterparts. However, the middle of the last decade saw women in this bracket once again face higher rates than men. For instance, 20.0% of females faced such problems in 2014 compared to 18.1% of males. 2015 and 2016 followed suit in this regard. 2020 saw stark increases in the level at which both genders faced damp housing as the rate of men affected increased to 31.3% while the rate of women increased to 26.8%. While the data for both genders is concerning, men earning below 60% of the MEI were particularly vulnerable to substandard housing conditions during the pandemic year (2020).

With regards to household composition, single parents were persistently disproportionately affected by indoor rot, dampness, and leaks relative to dual-adult households. 20.8% of single parents faced these conditions in 2010. From there, rates remained consistently within the high-teens and low-twenties, peaking in 2017 at 24.8%. Alarmingly, rates for single parents rose to 31.8% in 2020, up by 14.6% from 2019. As table 3 shows, households with two adults experienced significantly lower rates of such conditions. Given that 189,112 of the 218,817 single parent households in Ireland were headed by women in 2016, these figures once again indicate gendered difference in households at risk of dampness and mould development.

This data shows the importance of considering women and low-income individuals in relevant policy efforts throughout climate action processes. Unfortunately, analysis of the NRP shows that the policy document does not explicitly acknowledge the differences in experiences between men and women in this context. While the NRP states that assistance will be provided where necessary to ensure maximum participation in retrofit actions, this is expressed within a purely financial context. As such, the intersection of gender is not recognised in terms of the disadvantages in accessing home retrofits, or with regard to disparities within housing conditions that are resolvable via retrofitting.

Conclusion:

In answering how Irish retrofit policy may be adapted to promote climate justice and provide universally healthy housing, I argue that future policy must consider social inequalities beyond economic disparity when developing retrofit-funding support initiatives. Furthermore, it is important to recognise the impact traditional gender-roles, and their legacy within Irish society, have on both women’s abilities to afford retrofit measures and their exposure to unhealthy home-environments so that policies may gain more precise knowledge of the those in need of extra support. In developing a ‘feminist retrofit framework’, Waitt (2017) calls for a multidisciplinary approach to policy development in this area and argues for an increased utilisation of experimental participatory methods. Such methods include the perspectives and knowledge of those who are regularly engaged in domestic labour. While these suggestions are discussed chiefly in relation to energy efficiency, the framework could be adapted to account for the high rates of indoor dampness and mould in Ireland also by including the perspectives of households affected by such matters within policy research and development.

Appendix:

Table 1. Total population living in a dwelling with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floor in Ireland, by males and females.

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Males

12.5

11.4

13.1

13.9

13.7

13.2

12.8

12.4

11.4

12.8

16.6

Females

12.6

10.8

12.9

14.6

15.4

14.0

13.8

12.8

12.5

12.1

16.6

 

Table 2. Total population living in a dwelling with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floor in Ireland, below 60% median equivalized income, by males and females.

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Males

17.1

17.0

19.0

19.2

18.1

17.7

15.9

19.2

17.1

19.1

31.3

Females

15.9

15.3

17.5

18.6

20.0

20.9

19.6

19.2

18.9

17.0

26.8

 

Table 3. Total population living in a dwelling with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floor in Ireland by household type.

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Single person with dependent children

20.8

18.4

20.6

20.5

23.5

19.3

22.5

24.8

19.6

17.2

31.8

Two adults with one dependent child

7.7

6.9

11.4

16.5

15.4

11.5

11.5

11.7

14.7

9.0

12.0

Two adults with two dependent children

7.8

11.5

11.7

10.4

12.2

13.3

11.1

7.9

6.0

11.8

13.2

Two adults with three or more dependent children

9.8

12.1

14.6

13.8

13.6

15.1

15.0

10.4

12.0

12.2

15.6

Posted in: EnvironmentHousing

Tagged with: climatechangeenvironmenthousing

Aoife Murphy

Picture 1

My name is Aoife Murphy, and I am currently undertaking a master’s degree in Global Environmental Economics at the University of Galway. I am a recent graduate of UCD where I studied Sociology and Social Justice with a focus on socioeconomic disparity and climate justice. During my undergraduate degree, I interned at the Nevin Economic Research Institute where I produced a report aimed at mapping some of the many challenges associated with implementing a just transition across the Irish and Northern Irish Agricultural sector. I hope to pursue a career in social and economic research, particularly that which focuses on climate related issues, upon completing my master’s degree in the coming year.


Share:



Comments

Newsletter Sign Up  

Categories

Contributors

Vic Duggan

Vic Duggan is an independent consultant, economist and public policy specialist catering …

Robert Sweeney

Robert Sweeney is a policy analyst at TASC and focuses on issues surrounding Irish …

Paul Sweeney

Paul Sweeney is former Chief Economist of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He was a …



Podcasts