Diane Abbott MP: This must be the time for a major change in housing policy

My constituency office which (like other MPs) deals with local people’s concerns, has been inundated with cases of mould in flats and houses, many of them leading to ill-health.

social housing

Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

The shocking case of the death of 2-year old Awaab Ishak because of mould in his home could be the catalyst for a major change in housing policy.  It certainly deserves to be.

My constituency office which (like other MPs) deals with local people’s concerns, has been inundated with cases of mould in flats and houses, many of them leading to ill-health. It can be reasonably assumed that many other MPs are in the same position.

This is not a case of copy cat complaints. We know this because of independent evidence. Instead, Awaab Ishak’s heart breaking case itself has revealed a huge and largely hidden housing and health crisis in this country.

One housing association operating in my constituency reckons mould affects over 4% of all their properties.  This may be an under-estimate. Hackney Council has launched an audit of their properties to establish the scope of the problem. The constituency case worker in my office reports 69 open cases of mould and damp.

This is widespread. The i newspaper asked for readers’ contributions of their experience and was inundated with testimony, photos and videos.

In October of this year, the Housing Ombudsman issued a damning report of the conduct of Clarion, a social housing provider, that operates in Hackney. For an official report, the language is extremely critical. “We found severe maladministration for the landlord’s significant failings in dealing with a complaint about leaks, repairs and a rodent infestation. Other cases received highlighted similar concerns,” the report said, although it added that the landlord had responded positively to recommendations.

Unfortunately, the government has been extremely reluctant to act on this major national issue. It is all very well Michael Gove saying he is shocked by poor housing conditions and that he was putting bad landlords ‘on notice’. But this is a problem which has sharply deteriorated over the 12-year period of the Tory terms in office. His threat to withdraw government funds from these landlords is meant to sound tough. But it is unclear how this is designed to lead to any improvement in the housing stock.

The government record is abysmal. It is widely known that Tory MPs have voted down provisions attempting to enforce regulation on landlords to ensure that all homes are fit for human habitation. They are also now once again tearing themselves apart over whether to regulate for specific new homebuilding targets, amongst other fierce internal party rows.

Ultimately, new home building is crucial to address this problem. While everything that can be done to improve individual dwellings should be done, some homes are ultimately irremediable. In any event, the population is still growing and much of the housing stock is long past its usefulness.

We need to build more decent homes. Large-scale landlords and homebuilders who engage in ‘land banking’ have a vested interest in restricting the supply of decent accommodation. But getting people into good jobs, good homes and tackling the climate emergency would all benefit from a publicly-led programme of building affordable and environmentally sustainable new homes.

Meanwhile we need much better regulation of the entire sector. No-one should have to live in a mouldy home and it is completely unacceptable that anyone should die of it.

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