Olivia Colman stands next Adrian Lester either side of a doorway in a shot from the film Before Our Eyes. They look serious.

‘My daughter may die’: The harrowing London living conditions behind Amnesty International campaign

A mother of two fears her seven-year-old daughter may die whilst living in a Lambeth council flat affected by mould she moved into to escape domestic violence.

McKenzie has been hospitalised seven times for asthma and breathing difficulties despite being on regular medications.

Her mother, Samantha Jenkins, moved with McKenzie and her brother Marnie, 4, in July 2021 and first contacted the council in October where the mould was wiped down, yet the water-ridden wall causing the issue was not repaired.

Jenkins said: “They made me move from domestic violence because I’d be failing my kids if I didn’t, but now I’ve put them in a worse situation, one I can’t even protect them from.”

Since moving into the Norwood property, McKenzie has been diagnosed with asthma, placed on steroids and her oxygen levels have dropped to 72 when they should be at 100.

Jenkins said: “I fear that next year my daughter may die.

“I’m not asking for a lot, I just want the council to come and fix the issue or move us out.”

A clinical nurse specialist at King’s College Hospital wrote in August last year about McKenzie’s health, outlining how children with underlying respiratory issues are particularly vulnerable to being at risk with prolonged damp and mould exposure.

The letter which Jenkins forwarded to Lambeth Council reads: “It is essential that the home environment is free from damp and mould to reduce the risk of further hospitalisation with potentially severe/life-threatening episodes of difficulty breathing.

“I would be grateful if you could complete an urgent assessment and carry out remedial repairs to fix the root cause of the issue.

“If this cannot be done in an appropriate timescale, please consider urgent rehousing.”

More than six months on and both children still have a low school attendance due to illness, with Jenkins believing that no amount of money could cover the property damages, the impact on her mental wellbeing or her child’s health.

Black mould on wallpaper
Credit: Samantha Jenkins One example of the mould in Jenkins’ flat.

A Lambeth council spokesperson said: “We run a thorough and responsive repairs service, making strides to improve our housing services.

“We have been working hard to bring this property up to standard and the application for a move has been fully assessed.

“This has been communicated to our tenant, as have previous works.

“The council has carried out a mould wash at the property twice, and we are now in the process of carrying out boiler repairs as well as further investigations into any ongoing issues.”

One month ago, Oscar winning actress Olivia Colman starred in an Amnesty International UK project highlighting the importance of human rights issues in the UK.

An Amnesty spokesperson said the advert was inspired by the real lives of countless people in the UK, including thousands of children admitted to hospital with illness linked to living conditions, that are hidden in plain sight.

Shape History who were commissioned to produce the project, chose the format of the gritty British television drama to act as an attitude shift campaign.

Creative lead Zoe Dawson said: “No one makes the link between the cost-of-living crisis and the deterioration of human rights.

We didn’t want to base it off one story, the point is that this is happening at large.”

The video finishes with Olivia Colman breaking the fourth wall to say: “This isn’t drama, this is real life.”

Another person in distress is a cleaner living in a Kensington and Chelsea council flat since the early 2000s which has structural issues.

She has been fighting for years for a fix, but has been told it is simply condensation.

She said: “I can’t handle it anymore, nobody should live like this, they keep saying they are going to fix it and nothing has been done.

“I often start crying, anyone can see it is not condensation, if it wasn’t for my kids I wouldn’t live because I cannot handle this.”

The mother says the council recently opened a hole in the ceiling to check for asbestos.

This was covered with masking tape which has since fallen off, leaving her teenage children exposed to the potential asbestos.

Pipe with hole in
Credit: Cleaner living in Kensington and Chelsea Council Flat who wishes to not reveal name

A Kensington and Chelsea council spokesperson said: “Damp and mould is a serious issue and we’re committed to tackling it.

“We’re sorry that in this case our response so far has fallen short, and we’ve booked further work to take care of the problem.

“Our new damp and mould process ensures that in future whenever a resident lets us know about concerns about damp and mould we will book a surveyor to visit their home and be their first point of contact.

“We’ve also brought in some measures to give us more oversight of work completed by third party contractors – from now on we won’t pay for a job unless we’ve seen and approved photos of the work carried out.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is the government department responsible for housing, communities, and local government in England.

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We’ve introduced Awaab’s Law to force social landlords to address hazards such as damp and mould within strict timeframes.

“Tragic cases such as that of Awaab Ishak must never happen again.”

Awaab died in December 2020 aged 2 from a respiratory condition caused by extensive mould in Rochdale.

Data from the National Child Mortality Database earlier this month revealed temporary housing as a factor in 55 child deaths in England since 2019.

Featured Image Credit: Shape History

Related Articles