The shocking death of Awaab Ishak and the failure to take action by his social landlord, continues to raise significant concerns, with the Regulator for Social Housing, last week downgrading Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s governance grade to ‘non-compliant’. The coroner noted that Awaab died ‘as result of a severe respiratory condition due to prolonged exposure to mould in his environment’. Further noting that ‘Action to treat the mould was not taken’ . The universal condemnation of the social landlord has included Government ministers, with action to strip Rochdale Boroughwide of some of its funding.
But, unfortunately the tragedy of Awaab’s avoidable death is not surprising. Using national data, we have shown in a number of briefings that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups are at greater risk of experiencing housing deprivation and that this is the case whether they are living in social housing or renting privately, and that this was true across their lifecourse.
One of our papers showed families with dependent children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities were more likely than their White counterparts to experience housing deprivation. For Black African communities, families with dependent children were 2.5 times more likely to experience housing deprivation, with the figure for Pakistani families being around 3.5 times and for Bangladeshi families nearly 4 times. Whilst the published analysis of the English Housing Survey is not directly comparable, it continues to show Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic households are more likely to live in homes with damp.
Worryingly, these experiences of living in poor housing are not only long standing, but are likely to have been made worse by the impact of Covid-19. One of our briefings not only reported the continuing greater risk of homelessness experienced by some Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, with people from a Black African background 5 times more likely to present as homeless. The briefing also noted that for some Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups there was a greater likelihood of having to move due to the end of a tenancy or eviction, but perhaps of more concern was the increased numbers from these communities who were not in rent arrears or having trouble paying bills.
Extrapolating from one tragic incident, is fraught with dangers. Nevertheless the wealth of data on the housing experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic families’ experience of housing in Britain would suggest that Awaab and his families experiences are part of the wider consequences of our failure to progress racial equality effectively. Since the Barker Review of housing supply we have known that we are not building enough affordable housing and subsequent reviews suggest that we have not managed to improve the quality of the housing we do have, particularly in areas with significant Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
Furthermore, the regulatory regime as well as the mechanisms of enforcement have been shown to be at best limited. Unfortunately, the decline in real wages of the past 12 years means that, even though there has been a rise in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in employment, this is unlikely to lead to them being able to use the money they earn to move into better and safer homes. What is needed is a significant programme of social housing building that is accessible to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities that they can afford.