‘I had to put my kids on inhalers because of the black mould’

EMMA GARDINER reports that the findings of a Coroner’s court in Rochdale over the cause of death of a toddler needs to lead to profound changes in the way social housing stock is managed

Blocked off: the health of children living in Regina Road council flats have also been affected by mould

The shocking announcement this week from Rochdale Coroner’s Court that two-year-old toddler Awaab Ishak had died from a respiratory condition caused by the black mould in his housing association flat won’t have shocked some of the families living in Regina Road in South Norwood. Many of them have been forced to endure similar, health-damaging and life-threatening conditions in their Croydon Council homes for years.

Many will hope that the Rochdale Coroner’s ruling proves to be a turning point in the management of social housing in Britain.

On Tuesday, the Coroner found exposure to persistent black mould on the walls of the family’s rented home was a cause of the infant’s death in December 2020. The Coroner found that the landlord had failed to fix it, blaming the mould on “family lifestyle”. The high-handed dismissal of tenants’ genuine concerns will be familiar to residents in Regina Road and other council-owned homes in Croydon, as well as for too many of those renting in the private sector and living in housing associations.

Coroner Joanne Kearsley said on Tuesday, “I’m sure I’m not alone in asking how, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?”

Council tenants and temporary accommodation residents know the answer.

Awaab died because those in power in this country care more about lining their own pockets and drumming up business for their wealthy friends than they do about the lives of those they purport to provide services for.

The social structures we live within are no longer centred around care. Our public services are driven by profit and they are killing people. The chief executive of Awaab’s housing association said he was truly devastated. Not devastated enough to resign from his £170,000 per year job though.

Awaab Ishak: how many other children have to die because of the appalling conditions they are subjected to in social housing?

Every local authority, private landlord and housing association must know that some of their properties have damp and mould. They will also know about the complaints from tenants and healthcare professionals that land in their inboxes every day, spelling out the dangers of damp and mould on children’s health.

Now they’ll know that Awaab is dead and tomorrow it might be one of their own tenants living in the damp-riddled homes that they either manage directly or outsource to private landlords.

There was a pattern when kids from Regina Road had to go to A&E.

The hospital visits happened when it rained.

When tenants and campaigners tried to raise the voices of parents who feared for their children’s health, they were disregarded time and time again. Council officials looked mothers in the eye and ignored them when they said that damp and mould were making their kids sick. They were able to do this because the culture they operate in holds those living in council houses or temporary accommodation in distrust and disdain.

It’s no accident that large amounts of public housing are in such a horrific state of disrepair. The managed decline of council stock and public services in general is the result of a neoliberal ideology that has slashed away at the social ties and obligations that ought to bind our society together.

It is symptomatic of a culture of local government that prioritises financial gain at the expense of human lives.

Baby, a member of the Regina Road Residents Support Group – RRRSG – threw her children’s inhalers in front of a council official in desperation when he tried to tell her that the mould in her flat was not a health risk.

This week, after the announcement from the Coroner’s Court in Rochdale, Baby said, “It’s murder.

“Mould is poisonous and for them to watch another human go through this for the two years he lived, it was horrible. It’s something that nobody should go through.

“Living in Regina Road was just horrifying. To see my kids coughing throughout the night, to where they have to put them on inhalers. Sometimes I had to call an ambulance. It’s a horrible situation for anyone to go through. I hope that they will learn and something can be done about this.

“The living conditions in this country are just a mess”

I remember Regina Road residents being told by the council that the condition of their flats was not severe enough to justify a move. I’ve got a feeling that Croydon Council will now be moving very quickly to relocate families to different properties in a belated attempt to avoid other tragedies.

But such a kneejerk response to newspaper headlines will not resolve our housing crisis.

Baby and her three kids were eventually moved to a new property, but that also has issues with mould and damp. We need radical, large-scale solutions that put people before profit. Rearranging the deckchairs will not solve the housing crisis and will not save children’s lives.

Read more: Regina Road repairs are falling short of required standards
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
Read more: Council’s flats scandal caused by ‘complete corporate failure’
Read more: ‘Disgrace’ as £110m of Brick by Brick homes stand empty

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to ‘I had to put my kids on inhalers because of the black mould’

  1. Lewis White says:

    A few years ago on a 1960’s housing estate belonging to a London Borough (not roydon) I was invited in to a property by a Chair of the Tenants Association on our way from one part of the estate to another to look at the landscaping I was carrying out, as they needed to quickly see a tenant with “mould problems”.

    I agreed, as it seemed rude not to, but pointed out before and afterwards, that they should see the Housing officer and ask them to visit and look into the issues.

    Stepping in to the living room, I saw 1960’s single glazing, set in the original metal frames. Lots of condensation. A lot of people in the room. The heating must have been turned off or down very low. It was cold.

    Clothes drying — I can’t recall whether on a rack or in a machine. This was in the time when all dryers had to be vented externally, but were often, not.

    No windows open– I can’t recall if there was a fan light that could have been opened a tad, or just the very large windows. Certainly I saw no trickle ventilator in the window frames.

    The people were petrified by letting in any cold from the outside, no doubt due to cost of lost heat. Understandable.

    Maybe, when the block was built, heating was covered within the rent. Maybe, heat was cheaper, in the 60’s. (North Sea oil was giving the UK an economic boost by then I think). Maybe the estate had a communal drying room, plus outdoor washing lines for open air drying.

    I mentioned that a small amount of ventilation is needed in any room, to circulate the air, bring in fresh air and get rid of stale, and that clothes drying results in a lot of moisture that must be vented to the outside.

    I realised that there is a mix of factors inside any house or flat, human, technical, environmental / heating/ ventilating or “household management” of all three, let alone wild-card issues like water leaks and penetration, the possibility of condensation in ceiling spaces, roofs, etc etc.

    My guess is that every flat needs to be assessed by a team of three people– two surveyors and one housing officer with a combination and full range of technical knowledge, common sense, and human understanding … and the willingness to be real as to what the building owner/ manager can do, and what the residents have to do, to avoid condensation.

    So many issues, and …….. the other problem…..money.
    The costs of upgrading property, with new windows, and insulating outer walls, especially concrete panels, and old solid brickwork without cavities, and the cost of heating it, are all huge. Worse now, the latter, as we all know, than it has been in most of our lifetimes.

    Tony Blair’s mantra used to be Education Education Education… yes, so true.
    A modern mantra is Insulation, Insulation, Insulation, but needs to be accompanied by a mention of “enough ventilation” and “education about ventilation”.

    Over the last 40 years or so, as realisation about saving heat and making buildings better insulated has increased, Government has had –and dliberately missed– many chances to insist on higher standards of glazing and insuation for new build homes.

    I recall in the 80’s /90’s that the housebuilding industry was worried about the cost (albeit the small extra cost) of higher standards, as it would make homes more expensive.. and would put people off buying new homes

    (I’m not sure if they mentioned reducing profit margins).

    When you are building a building, it does not cost a lot more to fit a 150mm thick slab of insulation than it does to fit a 100mm thick or 50mm thick slab. But, admittedly, the cost of the thicker slab would be much more expensive. Probably that extra cost would be small in comparison with the cost of all that wasted heat in the 30 to 40 years since the thicker insultaion could have been installed. Not to mention the CO2 effect , about which we heard little back in the 80’s.

    The sad and avoidable death of the young child Awaab can’t be the first caused by mould. Tragic, and one really hopes that this will not be repeated in the UK.

    Also, when will we as a society (if it exists now) and our Governments, admit the unacceptable impact of incineration pollution and particulates, and find viable alternatives to urban and urban fringe incineration?

    And, will debate in the press be gagged by Government, anxious about the impact on profits made by the incineration industry?

  2. Thomas Windsor says:

    Our rented house is also damp, and black mould will grow if we let it… We run a dehumidifier 24/7 during the winter, wipe any condensation off the walls each day and use mould remover when it appears (bleach also works). We live in a very damp climate, so stopping damp and then mould in houses will be difficult unless we replace most of our housing stock.

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