I thank my colleague Foysol Choudhury for bringing this important debate to chamber.
I begin by offering my condolences to Awaab Ishak’s family. They suffered an unimaginable tragedy in 2020. Awaab was two years old and he died needlessly. His death was wholly preventable. He was a poor bairn who was poorly served by public service, and that should be chilling to all of us in the chamber. Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
“I have the right to have a proper house, food and clothing.”
A proper house does not mean any house; it means a house that gives security and safety and that does not damage health.
I am heartened by the action that the Scottish Government has taken on housing during the pandemic and amidst a cost of living crisis. Measures such as the rent freeze and the moratorium on evictions were bold rights-based policies, and those ideals—protecting people’s right to housing—should be the benchmark for future policy. We can build on that progress.
My office has a vested interested in this debate, as our case load has been high with serious concerns about the prevalent dismissive attitudes of many landlords—including social landlords—when it came to damp and mould. Awaab’s story should have set alarm bells ringing for landlords across the UK but, during the past year, my office has received several reports of damp and mould in local authority housing from constituents. Sadly, the blame game exists. The most typical excuses that are given in response are that damp and mould are caused by excessive showering, drying clothes in the house and not ventilating the property. We have to push for further action.
As reflected in today’s motion, that dismissive culture has led to tenants being forced to adopt potentially harmful daily practices. Many will feel compelled to turn on the heating to counter the cold and damp, and many will feel conflicted because they are worried about rising bills. Some will feel pressured to open windows to increase ventilation, but Scottish winters are unforgiving.
In some cases, the council eventually agreed to do remedial works. Unfortunately, that often means just covering over the damp areas and not tackling the dampness in the buildings. When the damp inevitably returns, the work order is repeated.
I have been helping a constituent who was forced out of their home due to flooding caused by empty council properties, or voids. The council in question is North Lanarkshire Council, which has a Labour administration that is supported by the Tories. The failure to secure voids against the winter has caused immeasurable damage not only to the void properties but to neighbouring ones and to council tenants.
One constituent of mine has been out of her home for five months awaiting remedial work because of damage caused by flooding because a void property was not protected from the winter. In that time, she has been paying rent for a property she cannot live in. That inequity cannot be allowed to exist.
As I said at the outset, the right to safe, secure and warm housing is not rhetoric; it is a fundamental human right and, indeed, a children’s right. The abrogation of that right has become prevalent, and landlords must be held to account when it is impinged on. I wholly reject the notion that that is a lofty or idealistic want; with political will, it is eminently achievable.
I again thank Foysol Choudhury for highlighting the very sad case of Awaab Ishak and his family. Let us ensure that his death was not in vain, as we tackle this issue.