Families in mouldy flats plead for action after Awaab’s death

Housing campaigners have issued a plea to landlords in the wake of the tragic death of two year old Awaab Ishak. Awaab passed away as a result of the impact of mould and damp – something activists say could easily happen elsewhere. They say hundreds of city kids are living in houses and flats just like his, many of them scared of the health risks.

According to BirminghamLive, Birmingham Fair Housing Campaign is calling on social housing providers to act fast and learn lessons from the little boy’s death. Families are in despair because, just like Awaab’s family, they say they are being ignored and gaslighted by providers of social housing.

Little Awaab died as a result of exposure to mould in his home, senior coroner for Rochdale, Joanne Kearsley, ruled earlier this month. She said his death should be a “defining moment” for the UK’s housing sector.

Campaigners have highlighted a series of shocking examples in Birmingham including:

  • a family of six living in a single room because the children’s bedroom in their two bed council flat is too damp and mouldy.
  • a young family with a child with a lung condition after being weakened by sepsis who were offered a house to live in that was full of black mould. When they rejected it they say they were warned they would be removed from the housing list.
  • tenants who moved out for a fortnight while repairs were carried out to their flat and found their children’s persistent asthma and eczema all but cleared up while they were away. Back in the flat, the damp and mould is pushing through again and their health has worsened.
  • the harrowing case of an elderly woman and her daughter living in a flat called the mouldiest in the country

Speaking for the campaign group, spokeswoman Salma said: “We were heartbroken to hear about the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak and send our deepest condolences to his family. Awaab’s death was entirely preventable.

“Like Awaab, children’s health in Birmingham is being damaged by them having to live in mouldy and damp homes. Like Awaab’s family, families in Birmingham are being blamed by social housing providers for causing mould in their homes. 

“Like Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, social housing providers in Birmingham are failing their tenants by not taking complaints about mould and damp seriously. Today, we call on all social housing providers in our city to learn the lessons from this tragedy so that no child in our city continues to be harmed by mould and the indifference of their housing provider.“

A report by Shelter Birmingham, entitled Uncomfortable Home Truths, highlighted that poor conditions and disrepair were causing problems for most people living in social homes in the city, with mould and damp mentioned frequently.

The impact of living in homes with mould is hugely damaging to physical and mental health – with tenants saying asthma, eczema, stress, anxiety and depression were caused by or made worse by their living conditions.

Yet when families complain they claim they are often ‘gaslighted and blamed for causing the damp issues’. Tenants also expressed their ‘frustration at the sheer length of time it took for their housing provider to undertake repairs’ – and when repairs are eventually carried out, they claim they were inadequate, and the mould quickly returned.

“For many families in Birmingham the coroner’s verdict into the causes of Awaab’s death has confirmed their worst fears about the continued and long-term damage mould is having on their children’s health,” said Salma. 

The Birmingham Fair Housing Campaign launched it’s People Manifesto for Fair Housing in November 2021 in the face of rising despair among residents. They called for a Charter of Rights for Renters to ensure all rented properties meet legal standards and all repairs are undertaken swiftly and thoroughly. Their demands include asking social and private landlords to “only let out properties to a standard which they themselves would be prepared to live in.”

The campaign also asked for the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street to establish a Housing Standards Commissioner to help drive up conditions in the social and private rented sector.

The activists – many of them tenants in social and private properties of low quality – are also asking people to support the campaign for Awaab’s Law and to write to their MPs to ask them to support the Social Housing Regulation Bill.

You can join BFHC here and help ensure their vision that ‘everyone in our city should have an affordable, safe and secure home and for this to be a human right’.

Birmingham City Council issued a statement last week after news of Awaab’s death, advising people how to prevent and treat mould and damp in their homes. 

It also said: “As the largest social landlord in the country Birmingham City Council inspects its properties for mould as part of its focus on carrying out increased numbers of home visits and is actively working with our tenants to prevent it. To assist them we are producing a housing toolkit which includes advice on treating mould and a leaflet which we will be distributing to all vulnerable tenants.”

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