Socialist Worker

'My child could die but I can't bring her home'

Issue No. 1872

Khadijah is three and half years old. Five weeks ago she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour.

Khadijah is stuck in a small hospital room – because Brent council won't rehouse her family.

Khadijah's mum, Edwina Igbodo, spoke to Socialist Worker.

'I have five kids, aged 14, 12, 11, three and a half and nine months. We live in a two-bedroom flat on the ninth floor of William Dunbar House on the South Kilburn estate in Brent.

I have been trying to get rehoused for years – it must be ten years now. The council kept telling me that although we only have two bedrooms they were bigger than average rooms so we weren't a high priority. I don't know anyone else who lives in my block and has five children.

And now my daughter is ill. It all happened really quickly.

About four weeks ago I was breastfeeding my son, watching TV and she came in. She started being sick and feeling drowsy. Her speech was slurring and she was losing the feeling down one side.

I rushed her into hospital. It was terrifying.

A brain scan showed bleeding, so they took her for a full scan. It was the worst hour and a half of my life, not even knowing if she would wake up or not.

Then they told me she had brain stem glioma, which is very unusual in a child as young as her.

She needs a wheelchair now and, if the treatment doesn't work, the worst-case scenario is that she has just six months to a year to live.

I can't take her back to our home. I can't manage her chair and my son's buggy when the lifts often don't work and I'm on the ninth floor.

And with three teenage boys in such a small space, it's stressful at the best of times. Now Khadijah needs peace and quiet.

The council has a system where people bid for any of their properties that become available.

There is a magazine called Locator, and if you see a property you want advertised in it, you put a bid in and the one with the highest priority gets it.

But I have never had the chance to bid for many properties because none that come up are ever big enough for us.

The council just doesn't seem to have five or six bedroom properties. When one does come up, the demand for it is massive.

I see other people moving on, but I am trapped. Someone suggested going up north, but I can't leave my family and friends.

I feel abandoned, like I have been left to rot. The council is actually paid to sort this sort of thing out but they don't seem to care.

When I told them about my daughter they just told me to keep on bidding. But the houses don't come up and we don't have time to wait.

How am I supposed to take five kids down to the housing office to sort things out? One housing worker told me to turn my living room into a bedroom, like I hadn't had to do that years ago.

There are a lot of private properties in Brent that are big enough that the council could rent for us. I think they are so unjust and cruel.

Now my baby is staying with my parents, but they are getting on a bit so it isn't easy. Luckily my sister brings him to see me, so he won't forget who I am.

The other boys are staying with relatives so their schooling doesn't get messed about.

I am staying here with Khadijah. It is exhausting and very stressful, but I am not going home without her.

I just can't wait any more. I have been waiting for years, and now my daughter really needs some space for herself.

I am willing to fight the council till the bitter end. Khadijah is the most important thing now. She is all that matters.'
Judy Cox

An estate of poverty and sickness

SOUTH KILBURN estate has twice the rate of sickness and disability of the surrounding areas, according to a survey produced by government consultants.

Nearly half of all the households in South Kilburn struggle to survive on £100 a week or less, says the same survey.

Some £50 million has been spent on 'regenerating' South Kilburn. The estate is now managed by an 'arms length' housing organisation, which is one step away from full-scale privatisation.

Around four years ago Brent council gave permission for a mobile phone mast to be built on the roof of Dunbar House, just a few floors below Khadijah's flat.

Similar phone masts elsewhere have sparked big protests because of the health risks they may pose, especially to children.

Europe and the US have 500 metre exclusion zones to protect schools from any dangers caused by the masts.

Overcrowding is rife

BRENT'S NEW Labour council is carrying through privatisation and cuts regardless of the costs.

Thousands of families across Britain are having their lives blighted by drastic shortages in affordable housing.

New Labour's slavish pursuit of the free market means there are less council homes being built today than at any time since records began in 1949.

Social housing (council and housing association accommodation) being built has dropped by almost one third since Labour took office in 1997.

In 1953 the government built 255,278 dwellings of this type compared with 22,144 constructed today-a pitiful 242 of these are council houses.

That's even worse than under Thatcher-in 1983 51,000 council housing and housing association places were built.

Private and public house building is at its lowest since 1924.

Every year there are 220,000 households looking for homes. But only 160,000 new homes, either private or public, become available.

This means hundreds of thousands of people struggle to bring up families in overcrowded conditions.

More high density

THE LONG awaited 'regeneration' of South Kilburn estate is turning into a nightmare for tenants.

Some £50 million has been allocated to it under the government's New Deal for Communities scheme.

But in January it was revealed that the 'regeneration' was based on building more tower blocks and no houses with gardens.

Nine year old Leilani Francis said, 'My mum has been waiting more than ten years for a house. Me, my brother and sister have to share one room.

'I can't concentrate on my books because my brother and sister keep chasing me.'

Past regeneration schemes involved decreasing the housing density of estates. Chronic lack of resources means that has all changed.

Funding for repairs has shrunk. The gap can only be made up by building more flats and selling them off to private buyers.

The Kilburn estate needs £200 million worth of work. Some 2,400 new flats will be built and sold on the open market to pay for repairs needed to the 2,800 existing council homes.

In January Britain's leading tenant body, the Tenants' Participation Advisory Service, was removed from the New Deal for Communities scheme after it raised tenants' fears about these plans.

One of the advisory service's leading experts, Tony Bird, said, 'What is currently on offer at South Kilburn represents a high density nightmare – an architects' fantasy driven by underfunding.'

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Article information

Sat 11 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1872
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