“I WILL be honest with you, I won’t survive another winter in here.”
When you see pictures of the mould climbing the walls of Campbell’s home in Angus, it isn’t hard to imagine why he is losing hope. The bathroom at a glance looks fire-damaged, it is only closer up that you see it is black mould, not soot.
“Those photographs are tame compared to what it gets,” Campbell – who had asked that his real name is not published – told the Sunday National.
For six years he has been living in rented social housing, and for six years, the former HGV driver’s respiratory issues have been getting worse. He believes his symptoms may never have flared up if he lived in a home free from black mould, but now he could have lifelong problems.
“I’m sorry for rabbiting on but this has turned my whole life upside down,” Campbell, who suffers from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, says.
“I’m 59 but I feel about 89. It’s horrendous. I’ve been on [drugs] for the last couple of years … and I’m currently on clinical research every two weeks because the small tubes in my lungs are closing. If that doesn’t work, it’s oxygen, full-time. I don’t know how much more serious it needs to be before somebody takes responsibility and says, pardon my French, but ‘get him the fuck out of there’. Words fail me.”
With an austere winter ahead, Campbell, like so many of us, is looking to cut back on heating. But he wonders if his health can take it.
“There are so many people in the same situation and you know their voices aren’t being heard,” he says.
With an energy crisis sending people’s bills through the roof, households across the UK are already facing the painful choice between heating or eating. Michael Lewis, E.ON’s chief executive, said last week that the supplier was seeing reductions in energy usage “of 10 to 15%” against seasonal averages.
But as people ration heat, other issues get worse. Mould and damp rise, and the human body finds it harder to fight off respiratory illness.
“As people cut back on their heating their houses will get damper, the possibility of having mould living in their home will increase, and you’ll see more hospital admissions because of that,” Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology from the University of Reading, told the Sunday National.
Clarke says that having black mould in the house is “not the sort of thing that’s ever ok”, but warns that older people, children, and those with underlying health issues could find themselves particularly vulnerable.
Just last month Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old child living in social housing in Rochdale in Greater Manchester, died from a respiratory condition after exposure to mould.
While Ishak’s case was extreme, Clarke says, he would “definitely” expect more similar health issues to arise through the winter.
“It’s never ok to have it in your home,” he says. “The basic problem comes down to dampness, and if you don’t dry your home out with heating during the damper months, which is the winter, then you’re more likely to have a problem. You breathe in fungus, or its spores, and your immune system attacks.”
Peter Kelly, the director of the Poverty Alliance, warned that for many people like Campbell, the issue of heating was a “question of life and death”.
He told the Sunday National: “It’s completely unjust that so many people in Scotland live in homes that are bad for their health. We need more investment in social housing and tighter inspections of rented accommodation, including in the private sector. The UK Government must put compassion into action and urgently increase support for people with their energy bills. We know that what they’ve put in place to date simply isn’t enough to cover increasing costs – especially for the poorest households.
“If that doesn’t happen, then people will simply not use their heating this winter, affecting their health and making existing problems with damp and mould even worse. It’s a question of life and death.”
Angus Council was contacted.