Man with breathing difficulties living in squalid housing as Hancock slams 'horrific conditions'

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports on the squalid living conditions people continue to be forced to live in

"Horrific examples" of poor housing exposed by ITV News are having a "clear impact on people’s health", the Health Secretary has warned, as he vowed to put housing at the heart of the government’s post-pandemic response.

Matt Hancock said it was up to landlords primarily to respond to inadequate homes they manage, but that it is the responsibility of government “to make sure, frankly, there's enough good quality housing.”

Bad housing costs the NHS an estimated £1.4 billion each year and there is a well-established link between damp, mouldy homes and a number of health problems including respiratory issues, physical pain, and headaches particularly in children.

ITV News spoke to Junior Jimoh and Terrie Pring about how bad housing is impacting their lives.

Responding to ITV News’ ongoing investigation into poor quality housing, Mr Hancock said: “We've seen horrific examples in some parts of the country of housing that has a clear impact on people's health.

“What I want to do with the whole health system is focus much more on what causes ill health, not just picking up the pieces afterwards.

"That has been true during the pandemic, trying to keep people from getting ill, but of course being there when people are ill and housing is absolutely at the centre of that approach to promoting good health, not just tackling ill health.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock responds to the 'horrific examples' of bad housing revealed by ITV News's investigation.

“We've got a responsibility to make sure, frankly, there's enough of it - enough good quality housing. 

“You saw in the Queen's Speech a big bill on planning reform so that we can build more high quality housing that people want to live in. 

“So there's the short term, and then the longer-term changes we need, because ultimately living in a decent house is a visceral human need and it has a direct impact on your health.”

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reflects on ITV News' investigation so far on what is a 'silent crisis'

Junior Jimoh has a neuro-muscular condition. He cannot walk, can barely talk and breathes with the assistance of a ventilator. He receives around-the-clock care in his flat in Clapham, a flat that is covered in black mould and damp.

It is particularly bad in Junior’s bedroom. Next to the ventilation equipment which helps him breathe, grows thick mould which makes it harder. 

He has been hospitalised on a number of occasions due to respiratory issues and chest infections - most recently in January when he had spend to months in hospital - exacerbated he says by the poor conditions in the flat.

Mould growing on the walls by Junior's life-saving ventilation equipment. Credit: ITV

Junior has been reporting the problems to his housing association, L&Q, since 2019.

Doctors have also written to them stating that the mould and damp will make his condition worse.

"They know about my health situation and they just don’t care”, Junior told ITV News.

Junior Jimoh says the damp in his house is making it harder for him to breathe.

He said: “It actually feels very depressing because I’ve kind of noticed that I’m not able to come off the ventilator as much as I used to staying in this property that’s full of mould is actually making me worse.  

“I’m struggling in this flat. I’ve noticed that my lungs are actually starting to hurt when I breathe."

An L&Q spokesperson said: “We are very sorry that our service has fallen so far short of the standard we expect for residents. It is clear that Mr Jimoh has been badly let down by L&Q.

"The safety and welfare of residents is our number one priority and we are doing everything we can to rectify this situation.

"We have a vulnerable tenants policy which should ensure that we respond faster to our residents with disabilities or health conditions. We are now conducting a detailed review of our contact with Mr Jimoh to find out why his issues were not treated with more urgency.”

As a result of ITV News' investigation, Junior has been moved into temporary accommodation while L&Q look for a new, permanent home for him to live in. 

With 1.1 million people in England in temporary housing, change rarely comes about so quickly.

Before the pandemic, 18% of homes in England were classed as ‘non-decent’, which means: 

  • it does not meet the basic legal health and safety standards for housing

  • it is not in a reasonable state of repair

  • it does not have reasonably modern facilities and services

  • it has insulation or heating that is not effective

In Bristol, Terrie Pring’s home ticks at least two of those boxes. 

She lives in a two-bedroom flat, owned by Bromford Housing, with her two children, aged 11 and 3.

Mould began appearing in the living room and the kitchen when she moved in three years ago. She reported to Bromford Housing, but nothing was done.

Terrie had to nail wallpaper to the walls because it is so damp. Credit: ITV

She regularly attempts to wash it off herself and has redecorated three times in three years, but the mould comes back every year, progressively worse each time. 

She has had to nail the wallpaper to the walls to stop it from peeling off, the walls are so damp. Her curtains are stained with mould, and she’s had to throw some of the children's toys.

Terrie told us living in such damp and mouldy conditions has had a negative impact on her and her children's health. 

She complains of feeling chesty, has breathing problems and gets frequent headaches - one of which she had before she lived in the flat.

Her daughter coughs during the night, and both children struggle to breathe deeply.

Terrie has complained several times since 2018, but has never received a single visit from Bromford Housing.

“I’ve complained about it about 5 or 6 times”, Terrie said.

“Even my nursery has complained because I was getting reports about my son’s clothes being damp in his nursery bag and smelling of damp which really got to me because it’s not my fault, but I can’t do anything about it. 

“I feel really trapped in here. It just depresses me. And with my anxiety as well, I just feel like I’m crying out for help and I’m not getting it. I’m really not.”

Terrie Pring says she received reports from her son's nursery because his clothes were found damp in his bag.

We put what we found at Terrie’s flat to Bromford Housing and they agreed to an interview.

Paul Coates from Bromford Housing apologised to Terrie and her family for their ordeal.

He said "we know we have failed her, we know we have let her down and what we will be doing is ensuring we carry out inspections of any home that is reporting historic damp or mould cases."

He added: "Clearly, if a customer is reporting something to us we should be following it up."

Paul Coates of Bromford Housing responds to ITV News' investigation.

The relationship between poor housing and health have been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Poor housing conditions are associated with greater spread of COVID-19, and people have had to spend more time in homes that are overcrowded, damp or unsafe. 

Of the 20 local authorities with the highest COVID-19 mortality rates, 14 also have the highest percentage of households living with fewer bedrooms than needed.

As a recent report by Ageing Better puts it: “The people most vulnerable to COVID-19 are also the most likely to be living in poor quality housing: older people, those with existing health conditions, people on lower incomes and those from ethnic minority groups.”

As Covid retreats, millions will still be left in poor quality, unsafe, dangerous homes.

The pandemic may have prompted promises to look again at the link between poor health and poor housing; the fear for those living it, is that it will be another promise broken.

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