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Olivia Colman backs social housing campaign and says human rights in UK are 'under threat'

Amnesty has launched a short film based on the real-life experiences of a young mother whose baby died

By Aine Fox, PA Social Affairs Correspondent

February 28, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

The Crown's Olivia Colman is supporting a campaign for better social housing, warning that human rights in the UK are at risk. She features in a short film about a young mum whose baby passed away due to poor living conditions in social housing.

As an ambassador for Amnesty International UK, she said violations of human rights are "happening right on our doorstep". She's backing their campaign to shed light on the "broken housing system".

In December 2020, the death of Awaab Ishak caused public outrage. He had a respiratory condition caused by long-term exposure to mould in his Rochdale flat, managed by a housing association.

This led to the introduction of Awaab's Law last year, part of the Social Housing Act. It means landlords must fix reported hazards like mould quickly or move tenants to safe homes.

Amnesty mentioned a report from January last year by the All-Party Parliamentary Group. It looked at households in temporary accommodation and found 34 cases of children who died between April 2019 and March 2022.

Homelessness and temporary accommodation were listed as factors that may have made the children more vulnerable, ill or contributed to their deaths.

A new film has been released by the charity to highlight the problems faced by people living in temporary accommodation. The film, Before Our Eyes, stars Olivia Colman, Adrian Lester and is based on the true story of a mother who wanted to remain anonymous.

In the film, Anna watches on helplessly as her baby daughter Grace's health deteriorates in the temporary accommodation they are placed in. The child ultimately dies and when the council denies all responsibility, Anna turns to ex-lawyer and ally Mary, played by Colman, for help.

Lester plays a disillusioned council worker and the story exposes what Amnesty described as a "broken system where people like Anna and Grace fall through the cracks, and people like Mary are silenced". Olivia Colman said: "It's easy to feel like we do enough, that human rights are for someone else to handle."

"We're so accustomed to seeing human rights violations in other countries across the world that many of us believe these abuses are far away and have nothing to do with us. But in reality, they are happening right on our doorstep human rights in the UK are under threat, and I hope this film will spur people on and encourage them to tune in and take action."

Adrian Lester, who is an Amnesty International supporter, said the story told on screen is "painfully common in the UK" but that most people do not realise "this kind of thing is going on". "We often look outside our borders when we think of human rights and don't realise that access to housing, healthcare, food and more is deteriorating in our own country."

"And even when we do recognise this, we don't connect it to violations of human rights happening before our eyes, on our doorstep. But that's what it is. There is such blatant inequality in the lives of people here in the UK. We need to find ways to talk about these problems so that things can change."

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty's chief executive, said: "We hope the film will be a catalyst for people across the UK to join the fight for rights and say that safe housing, enough healthy food, good and timely healthcare aren't 'nice to-haves' these are basic human rights which we expect our own Government to protect."

"We need new, firm commitments from political leaders across all parties to protect people's basic rights and effective ways to enforce those commitments. It's not just the right thing to do to protect our own citizens, it is critical to protecting the UK's global position as a leader in rights and standards in law, and a country that the world believes practices what we preach."

A Government spokesperson stated: "Temporary accommodation helps to ensure that families are not left without a roof over their head, but councils must ensure it is suitable, and families have a right to appeal if they think it does not meet their household's needs."

"That's why we have given councils £1 billion over three years to help them tackle homelessness, targeted to areas where it is needed most. Tragic cases such as that of Awaab Ishak must never happen again, which is why we've introduced Awaab's Law to force social landlords to address hazards such as damp and mould within strict timeframes."


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