Housing activist Kwajo Tweneboa has described how the squalid conditions endured by his terminally-ill father inspired him to fight for others.
The 23-year-old lived with his family in a social housing property that was “completely falling apart” – with damp, mould, cockroaches, mice and no kitchen or bathroom – when his father was taken ill with oesophageal cancer.
It was “just somewhere where no one should have been living, never mind someone receiving medical treatment for such a serious illness”, Mr Tweneboa told Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews.
His father, a care worker, died in January 2020 – and his fight to improve conditions at the south London property, shared with his two sisters, began in earnest before turning into wider activism on behalf of ill-treated social housing tenants.
The issue, he said, is a “national disgrace” – especially after the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, in which 72 people died, might have been expected to herald a renewed focus on social housing.
Explaining how his fight for better conditions began, Mr Tweneboa said: “Whilst my dad was ill, that was the sort of main concern.
“I mean, housing was parked to the side because it was just about trying to get him better. We thought he would.
“But then when he passed away and I looked back in hindsight, I realised this was just completely unacceptable. How is it not illegal? And he was the sort of fire that I needed.
“And it carried me up until today because I’m very determined that no one should be living in these conditions, never mind people receiving medical treatment. But it’s happened time and time again and I’ve seen it.”
Mr Tweneboa’s campaigning has won him recognition from the likes of levelling up secretary Michael Gove.
In one recent case, after posting a video of cockroach-infested housing on social media, the family who lived there was moved out to a hotel within 24 hours and has since been allocated new permanent accommodation.
Mr Tweneboa said the issue had never been seen as a priority and had become “progressively worse” under Tory governments over the last decade.
“After Grenfell… you would have expected for this to be top priority in regard to regulation and social housing providers and landlords being held accountable.
“But unfortunately, five years on, they haven’t been. And I think it is a national disgrace.
“I think every single politician in Westminster should be screaming and shouting from the rooftops about this, because I have no doubt in every single constituency is a resident living in poor social or housing, not even just social housing conditions in housing in general.
“And it shouldn’t be happening, especially after Grenfell.”
Mr Tweneboa welcomed plans outlined in the Queen’s Speech this week for laws to crackdown on rogue landlords – but would like to see more detail.
“They need to be held accountable,” he said.
“With the work that I’ve been doing over the last year… not one CEO or senior manager for one of these social housing providers have lost their jobs, but had it been a situation where this was in the NHS or any other public sector, people would have lost their jobs as a result.
“I’d like to see more regulation, more crackdowns on landlords, more fines.
“I’d like tenants to have more of a voice. I’ve already asked that residents’ associations be set up across all estates across the United Kingdom.
“I think it’s so important for tenants to be heard and they need to be at the forefront and made a priority when it comes to this bill being imposed. They need to be the people. Listen to no one else, okay? Because they’re the ones suffering.”
Mr Tweneboa has spoken previously about becoming mayor of London one day but said he was “very disappointed” in both main parties at the moment.
He has just completed a degree in business studies and has ambitions to be an artist. He hopes one day not to have to be contacted by people who need his help.
“Success for me would be when my phone stops going off from tenants… Complaining that they’ve been ignored constantly and asking for my help as a result.”
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