Improving the respiratory health of children in social housing


Lancaster University researchers have helped to evaluate an indoor air quality (IAQ) campaign to improve the health of children living in social housing.

This follows on from new government guidelines following the death of Awaab Ishak, a two-year-old boy who died in 2020. The coroner ruled this was as a direct result of exposure to mould in the social home his family rented from Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.

Following a campaign by his parents, Shelter and the media, the Government has now introduced Awaab’s Law in the Social Housing Regulation Act 2023. This focuses specifically on timescales for landlords to respond to complaints of damp and mould in social homes with a consultation launched this January.

Dr Emma Halliday from Lancaster University said: "Following the death of Awaab Ishak, a young boy from Rochdale who died from a respiratory condition caused by mould in his home, there has been greater political scrutiny of social housing, with housing providers using monitors to find and fix problems.”

Dr Halliday is a member of a team who have helped evaluate an Indoor Air Quality campaign in collaboration with one of the North West’s leading housing providers, Torus with the aim of creating an innovative pilot that focused on the respiratory impact of indoor air quality while empowering social tenants in their homes.

The project was delivered by Torus’ charitable arm Torus Foundation, whose colleagues, along with volunteers from its Healthy Neighbours Project, engaged with Torus families with children aged 11 and under, who lived across Liverpool, St Helens and Warrington.

As a result of the engagement, 200 devices were installed and monitored pollutants such as levels of particulate pollution such as smoke from fires or tobacco use, carbon dioxide, humidity, and airborne chemicals from everyday household products.

One tenant shared, "When I’d used fly spray the device was picking up the type of chemicals and levels. I won’t use it in the living room now and I also stopped using the brush to pick up as it was recording dust levels in the air, a quick once over with the hoover from now on.”

Participants were provided with a report detailing their monitor readings and received practical hints and tips to make improvements to the air quality inside the home. Where issues related to damp and humidity were identified, or families were struggling to heat their homes, cases were referred for housing or energy support.

The evaluation was conducted by Dr Douglas Booker, CEO of National Air Quality Testing Services (NAQTS) based in the Lancaster Environment Centre and Dr Emma Halliday, Paula Wheeler and Dr Steven Dodd from Lancaster University who work in the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Northwest Coast.

In addition to analysing data collected during the campaign, interviews and focus groups were held with social housing tenants who had installed monitors.

The resulting reports highlights that there was a marked increase in tenants’ awareness of IAQ based on tenants’ self-rated knowledge. This newfound knowledge triggered behavioural changes, such as altered cleaning habits.

Dr Halliday said: “The findings offer a positive example of how a housing provider has been working with local community organisations to address improvements to indoor air quality with a view to improving the respiratory health of children.

“As this campaign has shown, projects delivered in partnership with communities are more likely to achieve improvements rather than the use of monitors alone. It is vital that people’s lived experiences of these issues are central to efforts to improve indoor air quality, and housing conditions more generally.”

However, the researchers also observed that increased knowledge could unintentionally increase anxiety around the issue, which suggests careful attention should be paid to how reports about IAQ in people’s homes are presented to tenants. Improved trends in levels such as humidity and carbon dioxide were also reported although the analysis of monitor data presents a complex picture.

Dr Booker said: “We found a general story of improved indoor air quality across all of the locations. However, there were homes in all locations that still showed high levels of specific pollutants, and that certain air pollutants trends were not consistent across different locations, highlighting the need for further research to understand how different indoor and outdoor sources may influence health in different contexts.”

Helen Cibinda Ntale, Head of Health and Wellbeing, Torus Foundation said: “As a social housing provider, Torus has a responsibility to ensure that our homes support the health and wellbeing of our customers. We’re extremely mindful of the harmful impacts of damp and mould amongst other indoor air quality factors on respiratory health and were keen to be involved in an initiative which sought to empower customers to achieve changes to their own indoor air quality to improve their and their family’s health.”

The research team, in partnership with NAQTS, have now been awarded UKRI funding through an Impact Accelerator Account to maximise the impact of this research for policy and practice.

The project aims to accelerate the development of a person-centred approach to improving IAQ in social housing.

During the project, the team plans to engage with housing providers, tenants, and community organisations and engineers, using the participatory arts to spark discussions around IAQ.

Building on an existing collaboration with Lancaster University, the community arts company Made by Mortals has coproduced a new immersive audio story called Little Lungs with tenants and staff involved with the above campaign, exploring the effects of IAQ on a family with a child living with a respiratory health condition.

The free resource will be released at the end of this month. Visit here to sign up to the online launch.

The initial IAQ campaign was funded by Beyond - Cheshire and Merseyside ICB Children and Young People’s Transformation programme and Torus Housing Group,

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