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I took neglected social housing tenants to the hospital. The death of a two-year-old does not surprise me | Kwajo Tweneboa

Jhe death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, a direct result of living in a house covered in damp, black mold, shocked the country last week. Her tragic story is a damning indictment of the state of housing and, in particular, social housing in the UK.

An innocent death due to landlord negligence is something I and others have campaigned to avoid. Over the past 18 months, I have witnessed first-hand thousands of social housing tenants living in conditions of poverty similar to those of Awaab’s family. Some have been fighting their landlords for decades to get them to meet their contractual health and safety obligations. Residents have to endure squalid and uninhabitable living conditions, but their complaints are ignored and they still have to pay rent.

On occasion, I’ve had to take injured people into their own homes at A&E, once when a ceiling partially collapsed on top of a tenant while he was cooking. Yes, they had already complained to their landlord about cracks in the ceiling, but nothing was done until it collapsed.

Time and time again people have shown me that they follow complaints procedures and ask for help, but are being ignored on many levels. Sometimes, after failing with landlords, they are also ignored by their MPs or suffer long wait times when approaching the ombudsman or regulator. On several occasions, I have questioned the validity of our regulatory bodies in the social housing sector. The housing mediation service should evolve for the better if the social housing regulation bill, currently being examined by parliament, is approved. But the ombudsman is funded by the owners, raising the question of whether the bad guys will be held accountable.

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s (RBH) response to Awaab’s death has been nothing short of insulting. He defined the tragedy as merely a “learning experience”, but it cost Awaab’s parents their son’s life.

“Lessons learned” is a hollow term. They should have been learned the night 72 innocent people died in Grenfell Tower. They should have known when the remains of Sheila Seleoane were found on her sofa in her Peabody flat in London two and a half years after her death. They should have been learned after one-year-old Exodus Eyob fell out of Leeds Tower window to his death. A window that was faulty, as her mother had repeatedly told the council (although the cause of death has yet to be confirmed). How many more lessons need to be learned and how many lives need to be taken before the sector wakes up and cares?

The court heard how Awaab’s medical visitor sent a letter to RBH in July 2020 supporting a request for the family to move due to damp and mould. She expressed concern about the child living in the apartment and the health problems the mold could cause. Tenants have often told me that school principals, doctors and social workers, among others, have written on their behalf to a landlord about the condition of their unit. Many do not even receive an acknowledgment of receipt of their letter, which is alarming given the hundreds of residents I have spoken to alone and who have requested professional support. Had the owner listened to the demands of Awaab’s health rep, he might have celebrated his third birthday and beyond.

It is true that the general manager of RBH was fired yesterday. What we need now is a criminal investigation into what happened to bring justice to Awaab’s family and set an example for landlords across the country.

The question of whether asylum seekers exacerbated or caused the social housing crisis is redundant. More than 1.25 million people are waiting for housing and the stock is limited. This may be linked to the failures of Mrs Thatcher’s right to buy programme, as well as the failure of successive governments to prioritize social housing and meet building targets, resulting in a disaster that could have been predicted a while ago. decades. Today we see people housed in obscene conditions or living for years, even decades, in temporary accommodation or unacceptable hotels until social housing becomes available.

Awaab’s family must try to rebuild their life without their son or brother. The housing sector must rebuild a broken system rooted in prejudice and neglect to ensure that a death like this never happens again. Apologies or statements of lessons learned will never make up for the loss of an innocent life, but are often the default response when tragedies occur. Tenants are tired of excuses. And I’m sick of excuses from industry bosses. We want action.

Kwajo Tweneboa is the presenter of To help! My house is disgusting on channel 4


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