My home is making me and my daughter ill but no one will help us

Imagine waking up in your home and feeling instantly anxious, knowing that just being there is making you sick – and that you have no choice but to stay.

That’s how I feel every day.

I’m a single mother, living with my two-year-old daughter in a flat in North London, where we have stayed for the past 18 months – and it’s like being in a nightmare.

When I first moved in, there was a leak from the property upstairs, which spread to our living room and almost caused the ceiling to collapse. All of our furniture got damaged, and the ceiling had to be cut out and re-plastered.

But despite it not being our fault, the estate agent and landlord didn’t offer to replace our possessions and there was no compassion.

A few months later, the damp started.

It was slow at first, but then rapidly spread – to the walls, our wardrobes, the ottoman and my bed frame. Distraught, I had to throw most of our things away, including all of my daughter’s toys. To prevent us from losing our clothes, I sealed them into vacuum bags and moved my bed into another room, far away from the wall.

But when the damp spread to my daughter’s cot, I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

Throughout our time in this flat, we have both become ill. I’m asthmatic, and worry about what our living condition is doing to our lungs. I also keep getting eye infections that require medication and have taken my daughter to the doctor several times because I am so scared.

My mental health is shattered, too. I suffer from depression and anxiety, and am now on antidepressants. I’m not sleeping or eating.

And it makes me so sad that my daughter is seeing me like this.

Our life in this flat is torture, but I have nowhere else to go.

My family don’t live in the area and my mum is high-risk so I can’t visit or stay with her. There is no one to hold my hand, no partner to tell me it will be OK.

I have to be a mum and dad to my daughter, while trying to take care of myself.

Before, we lived in a hotel, in temporary accommodation. I claim some benefits, which means it’s very hard to find a good home, but I was under a lot of pressure from the council to get a private property as soon as possible.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of my rights. So when our North London flat came through, I felt I had to accept (legally, I didn’t) even though I knew it wasn’t in an acceptable state.

I’ve been told by the council that if I do leave this property I will be classed as intentionally homeless

When the damp appeared, I spoke to the estate agent and landlord straight away, but they did nothing to help. I also messaged the council.

They replied with a letter and sent a builder round a month later – but it made no difference. He was an unpleasant man who said the damp was my fault, blaming it on me not opening windows or putting the heating on.

Because I’m young and a woman, I was belittled – he even called me ‘youngster’.

Unfortunately, in our society, when you don’t have a man at your side, people treat you differently. It’s harder to stand your ground and others will try to silence you.

I’ve been told by the council that if I do leave this property I will be classed as intentionally homeless.

I wouldn’t be able to afford somewhere new straight away and my deposit on the current flat isn’t protected, which means there could be a delay in getting it back.

I would have to be homeless before I could get a flat, and that’s not the best position to be in when you’re trying to find somewhere.

They made it sound like I should be happy that I have a roof over my head at all.

That was the last straw. I’m not going to be silent. My daughter and I deserve better than this.

Unemployed single parents find it much harder to get housing in the UK. They often don’t have the funds for a deposit and many estate agents now ask for three months rent upfront, and often won’t accept housing benefits.

I am speaking out about my experience because there are so many people going through this.

I’ve applied for social housing, which is public property owned by a Government authority offered at affordable rates, but there is a long waiting list.

To me, a social home means security. My child would be protected, and we would have a roof over our heads that no one could take away from us. That’s all we need.

There is currently not enough social housing in Britain, with one home for every 96 households on the waiting list, according to a recent report by Shelter. The research also showed that three million people live in ‘poor conditions’ with issues such as damp, pests or electrical hazards.

The Government needs to act now by building more social housing, but also holding councils to account.

There must be safety measures in place to safeguard the rights of vulnerable people.

Every day is a battle and I want to protect my little one. That’s my duty.

But I wonder, who will protect me?

As told to Almara Abgarian.

You can find out more about social housing here.

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