Michael Gove discusses death of toddler Awaab Ishak
Housing Secretary Micheal Gove has called on the chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to resign from his £185,000-per-annum job in the wake of the death of a two-year-old boy from a health condition directly connected with the mould-infested flat in which he lived.
Awaab Ishak died in December 2020 as a result of a cardiac arrest after living in the damp one-bedroom flat in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
At an inquest on Tuesday, senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said the little boy had died as a result of a “severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment”.
She said: “I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought, ‘How does this happen? How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?’
Awaab Ishak died as a result of a respiratory condition, the inquest heard
Gareth Swarbrick, RBH’s chief executive
“The tragic death of Awaab will and should be a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, increasing awareness and a deepening of understanding surrounding the issue of damp and mould.”
Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah complained about the mould on numerous occasions but said the family had been “left feeling absolutely worthless at the hands of RBH”.
Mr Gove has summoned RBH CEO Gareth Swarbrick and is also due to give a statement to the Commons this afternoon.
Speaking today, the former Education Secretary said: “Honestly, it beggars belief that this guy is still in office.
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Michael Gove is the Government’s Housing Minister
“He is coming here in order to explain to me why it was that this tragedy was allowed to happen. This is an unacceptable tragedy.”
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, told Express.co.uk: “It disgusts me that as the sixth wealthiest country, children are dying because of poor housing stock.
“The Government needs to urgently create an overarching body with teeth to enforce minimum housing standards on all providers.”
She added: “Currently it’s too easy for landlords, especially private, to shirk responsibility.
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Mould in the flat where Awaab Ishak lived caused his respiratory problems
Awaab had a continuous cough and couldn’t breathe through his nose in the final weeks of his life
“If the unnecessary death of a child doesn’t prompt our Government to act, what will.”
Mr Swarbrick, who has worked for RBH since 2002, was appointed its chief executive in 2008.
In a statement sent to Express.co.uk, he said: “I am truly devastated about Awaab’s death and the things we got wrong.
“We know that nothing we can say will bring Awaab back or be of any consolation to his family. We have and will continue to learn hard lessons from this.
Awaab Ishaak on his second – and last – birthday
“We didn’t recognise the level of risk to a little boy’s health from the mould in the family’s home. We allowed a legal disrepair process, widely used in the housing sector, to get in the way of promptly tackling the mould.”
He added: “We must make sure this can never happen again. Awaab’s death needs to be a wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health.
“We will take responsibility for sharing what we have learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector and beyond.
“We support the Coroner and Housing Ombudsman’s call for the government’s Decent Homes Standard to be strengthened to include damp and mould, and the Coroner’s decision to write to the Ministers of Housing and Health on this.”
Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme today, housing ombudsman Richard Blakeway said: “This is an appalling, heart-breaking case but, sadly, the kind of failures that we saw here, whilst they may not have as tragic a consequence, they often happen and they often cause deep distress, profound distress to residents.”
He said landlords needed a clear, urgent and proactive approach to dealing with issues.
He added: “I think one of the issues that we’ve seen here is that landlords have not always prioritised or focused on issues like damp and mould and there’s kind of been almost a dismissive attitude by some, a kind of fatalism by some. You can see now the consequences of it.
“I have seen a dramatic increase in the case work on damp and mould.”