Michael Gove has described the death of a toddler from a mould-infested housing association flat as an “unacceptable tragedy”. An inquest today concluded two-year-old Awaab Ishak died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in the one-bedroom flat where he lived with parents Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Aminin in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
Speaking this evening, the Housing Secretary said local authorities and housing associations have a “basic responsibility” to ensure people have “decent homes”.
Mr Gove said they could not blame a lack of government funding for the death of the toddler.
He said: “We all know that local authorities are facing challenging times when it comes to finance but, frankly, that is no excuse.
“When you have got a situation where you have a young child in a house that is unfit for human habitation, it is a basic responsibility of the local authority – but particularly the housing association – to make sure that people are in decent homes.
“All this what-aboutery, all this ‘Oh, if only we had more government money’ – do your job, man.”
Mr Gove said it “beggars belief” that the chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing is still in his job following the two-year-old’s death.
He said he has summoned the head of the housing association concerned to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Mr Gove added: “This is an unacceptable tragedy.”
It comes as a coroner on Tuesday said the toddler’s death should be a “defining moment” for the housing sector.
An inquest at Rochdale Coroner’s Court was told that the tot’s father had complained to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) about the mould but no action was taken.
Giving her findings, senior coroner Joanne Kearsley 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?’
“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.”
Addressing the toddler’s parents, Ms Kearsley said: “I hope you know that Awaab will, I am sure, make a difference for other people.”
In a statement after the hearing, the youngster’s family said: “We cannot tell you how many health professionals we’ve cried in front and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing staff we have pleaded to, expressing concern for the conditions ourselves and Awaab have been living in.
“We shouted out as loudly as we could, but despite making all of those efforts, every night we would be coming back to the same problem.”
Chief executive of RBH, Gareth Swarbrick, said Awaab’s death should be a “wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health”.