Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, died in 2020 from a severe respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home, an inquest has heard. The right to an adequate standard of living – which includes decent housing conditions – ought to protect people in the UK from living in a home which causes them harm.
Awaab’s death was caused by “environmental mould pollution”. Joanne Kearsley, the coroner, asked: “How does this happen? How in the UK in 2020 does a two-year-old child die due to exposure to mould?”
A two-year-old boy's death was caused by "extensive" mould in his family's flat, a coroner has concluded in a case that should be "a defining moment" for the housing sector.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 15, 2022
Living conditions across the UK can be ‘dire’
Greater Manchester Police told the inquest that there are several properties on the same estate which had damp and mould. However, those properties “did not meet the evidence threshold for criminal proceedings against the housing association” for gross negligence, manslaughter or corporate manslaughter. During the inquest, Professor Malcolm Richardson, an expert on mould and fungi, described the conditions across social housing as “dire”.
In 2016, the government voted to reject proposed new rules requiring private sector landlords to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation. The amendment to the Housing Bill was rejected on the basis that it would “push up rents”.
The charity Women Asylum Seekers Together stated: “It shouldn’t take the death of a child to raise the alarm, but this tragic story must act as a catalyst to end the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK and ensure our human rights are protected.”
The Manchester-based charity tweeted pictures of the conditions of the houses that some of their members live in. One member’s son has breathing difficulties due to mould.
This is the conditions women in our network are living in.
One women’s son has breathing difficulties due to the condition of the housing she is living in.
We’ve been raising the alarm but no one is listening 🚨 pic.twitter.com/Ct3A4tq3ri
— Women Asylum Seekers Together 🧡 (@wast_manchester) November 16, 2022
The right to be free from discrimination
The family of Awaab Ishak said they have “no doubt at all” they were “treated in this way because we are not from this country”. Article 14 of the Human Rights Act is meant to protect people in the UK from discrimination when it comes to their right to life. Awaab’s mother and father arrived in the UK from Sudan to seek asylum in 2015. They moved to Rochdale’s Freehold Estate in 2016. Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, first noticed the mould in 2017 but was told to “paint over it” by property managers Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. By the following year the mould had returned and by May 2019 Abdullah had made several complaints and requested to move.
Despite the flat being described as “unfit for human habitation”, the housing association said that its policy is not to carry out work on a property that was subject to a legal complaint until it had been approved by solicitors.
The housing ombudsman has written to the chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, Gareth Swarbrick, stating that investigations into its high and medium risk properties will take place.