Opinion

How many times is it acceptable for a one-year-old to be hospitalised due to a mould-ridden home?

At a time of growing crises, the government remains committed to feuding and grandstanding over the Rwanda bill

cold and damp

The damp and mould in a property which has caused a baby to be hospitalised six times. Image: Supplied

Dareen Nuru turned one last week. Around 60 people gathered to wish her happy birthday, which, by any measure, is a lot for an infant. But they hadn’t got together just to blow out some candles. Dareen has been hospitalised six times in her short life. This is due to respiratory problems caused by mould in her family home. It’s private rented accommodation in Lambeth where there is chronic shortage of housing stock. An alternative cannot be found.

Those assembled were focused on drawing attention to Dareen’s plight and the increasingly terrible conditions many families face in rented homes. Dareen shares the one-bedroom property with her parents and four siblings. Her twin, Haneen, also suffers from respiratory problems and seven-year-old Lujain has developed allergies linked to the conditions in the flat. Authorities who have inspected the place say it’s “a disaster waiting to happen”.  

I’m not sure how many times it’s acceptable for a one-year-old to have been hospitalised due to the living conditions that her family find themselves in, conditions they have agitated to change, to no avail, but I think one should be more than enough.   

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In 2020 two-year-old Awaab Ishak died in Rochdale due to a severe respiratory condition caused by mould in his family home. And now, here we are, with problems in rented properties still damaging the health of infants, and others. Dareen Nuru is far from the only child impacted. 

Meanwhile, the DWP is rolling out plans to crack down on benefit fraud and stop those on the make taking what isn’t theirs. They discovered that Penny Davis owed them £12,000. And they wanted it back. So they threatened to get after her and take it where they could, probably directly from whatever wages she earned, small wages that were being supplemented by universal credit. They threatened court action. Except Penny didn’t owe them a dime. They’d got it wrong. In fact, they got it so wrong, they actually owed Penny money, some £2,000. It took six months for the DWP to admit they were in the wrong. But Penny STILL hasn’t received the money she is owed. It’s a shameful situation. 

Neither the story of Penny nor that of Dareen is unique. I’m proud that Big Issue reports on these stories and that our team shine a light and bring useful and positive change when needed. Those people involved in supporting Penny and Dareen’s family have been clear that there are many other people similarly affected. 

And yet, in the mouth of growing crises like these, the government remains committed to internecine feuding and puerile grandstanding over the Rwanda bill, a policy so hollow that certain MPs, jockeying for TV time to show how tough they can be, are annoyed that there isn’t more certainty on breaking international law attached.  

The Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, was so fed up with it all he offered to return the money his nation has received.  (Though that offer was swiftly revised by others).

The people on small boats are not responsible for the housing crisis or the health crisis or any other crisis it’s convenient for members of the government to land at them. Maybe if they, and others seeking to remain in the UK, were allowed to work as their applications were processed, some of the difficulties in building and in the health service could be fixed. This is unlikely. 

We run the annual Changemakers 100 next week. It’s a publication bursting with ideas, enthusiasm and a willingness to impact the world positively. 

It feels like this one is the most telling, timely and valuable top 100 we have run, and that isn’t just because for the first time all the list is a celebration of names brought to us by you.  

Change for the better is going to bubble up from the grassroots. It’s not coming from the top.  

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more

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