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17 Nov 2022 < Back

The importance of education and legislation

The tragic story of Awaab Ishak dominated the headline on Tuesday. The coroner in this appalling case sited mould as a primary catalyst to the toddler’s avoidable death. We have all taken notice.

The retributions have already begun. Allegations of racism and cultural stereotyping, procedures that failed vulnerable people, departmental negligence, systems that fail to call out complacency, and mechanisms that devalue and dehumanise people living in substandard accommodation and are powerless to leave.

The impact of mould on occupants

Anyone who deals with dampness in “low cost” rental accommodation knows that the photographs released after the inquest are not unusual, they don’t shock. The conditions that the Ishak family were living in are not uncommon. I would wager that the majority of social landlords that are managing ex local authority properties have a file full of properties that look the same.

It’s not our place to comment on the social, economic, or institutional circumstances of this case, but we are qualified to comment on the cause of the mould and the impact on occupants. Our experience also gives us leave to comment on what we think should happen in the future.

The Health and Safety Executive presides over regulation that seeks to prevent employers, landowners and businesses risking workers’ safety. This enforcement body has the power to investigate unsafe practices, deaths and injuries and instigate both civil and criminal prosecutions against those who wilfully or negligently fail to discharge their duty of care.

Protecting tenants with new legislation, regulation & better enforcement

Why is there no such mechanism to protect tenants in their homes? How can it be possible that a system and the people presiding over that system can watch it fail so totally. Process and procedure seem to have meant that key people were more worried about the implication of taking action, than the consequence of inaction. All residents of all properties need to be given a voice. The people who have the duty to listen to those voices must then be empowered to act. This requires a shift in attitude as well as new legislation, regulation, and enforcement powers.

A framework like that presided over by the HSE, which will hold people to account through criminal accountability is something I think may come, but this is worthless unless without education.

Education on the causes & implications of dampness is key

The social and economic realities of poor people living in poor housing is always going to be a challenge, but there can never be an excuse for complacency born of ignorance. Every housing officer, landlord, surveyor and building professional should have the knowledge to at least understand the causes and implications of dampness when it is seen or reported.

An early lesson from Grenfell Tower was the importance that tenants need a voice and those who serve them need to listen and act on what they are being told. We can only hope that this tragic death will give a lasting voice to all tenants whose lives are being blighted, shortened and in this case ended by an insidious defect that with the right attitude, can always be explained, remedied, and resolved.

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