The tragic death of Awaab Ishak has rightly shaken the housing sector. The coroner, Joanne Kearsley, could not have been more damning in her analysis of the events that led to his death. She said this should be a defining moment for the sector. And she is right. 

But the issue is far more far-reaching than housing operations. It is about what we build, how we build it and what we are prepared to spend on homes so that they are fit for habitation, and create the conditions for people to thrive.

Awaab’s story has struck close to home for me. I grew up in social housing. The estate we lived on wasn’t the greatest, but we were lucky. The flat I lived in was good quality. Built in the 1960s, it was light and airy and had plenty of room for me and my mum. 

Though like many households in the 1980s (and now, shamefully) we did on occasion have to make the choice between heating and eating, we didn’t have the endemic damp and mould issues that far too many families are battling with daily. We didn’t have to worry about unsafe cladding or pest control or ASB in the communal areas. 

It was home, and though we didn’t have much, we were proud of it. How many social tenants feel that way today? 

Inflect hosted a dinner recently where we brought housing associations, developers, regulators and suppliers together to talk about the issues and what the future looks like for housing. Inevitably, we ended up talking about what had gone so badly wrong in Rochdale. 

The fact is, it’s not just homes built in the 1960s that are performing badly. There are far newer buildings that are damaging people’s health. This crisis might not be as obvious as fire safety, but for those forced to endure it, it is every bit as debilitating.

And it’s not lifestyle that’s to blame. We live in the UK. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have to dry washing inside on a pretty regular basis. (And trust me, with twin girls and a pretty industrial weekly washing operation, if that were truly a factor, I’d be in big trouble.)

The truth is much more fundamental. As a nation, we’ve not spent enough on building new homes or on maintaining the ones that we do have. Government policy has driven investment towards new build at the cost of existing homes and too often it has been a race to the bottom on price per square foot.

For years the mantra has been ‘build more homes.’ And of course, we need new homes. But the erosion of grant and the downward pressures on even recycled capital grant have channelled resources into new build at the expense of quality of living.

Housing is the bedrock of prosperity. It is critical to health, work and education. It’s time we started considering not just the cost but the long-term value of getting it right.