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
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.
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
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