TELAN Carlton was born at ten minutes to midnight on November 8, 2011, at York Hospital. She was, in the words of her mother, Kia Stone, a “gorgeous, perfect little angel”.
“She just had these gorgeous little eyes that looked up at you,” Kia said. “She didn’t cry. She was happy, so innocent, not a care in the world.”
Telan died at 9.43pm on October 6, 2012, at York Hospital, after suddenly being taken ill at the family’s one-bed council flat in Chapelfields.
Shortly after feeding her from a bottle and putting her down in her cot, her mother heard her coughing. She rushed through to find the little girl had stopped breathing.
Telan was two days short of being 11 months old. For her mother, who was at her side as medics at York Hospital struggled to resuscitate her, it was as though the bottom had dropped out of her world.
“I just fell down next to the bed when they told me there was nothing more they could do,” said Kia, 24. “I was just begging her to wake up.”
Nobody knows yet why Telan died. An inquest has been opened and adjourned, while histology and toxicology tests are awaited. But Kia wonders if the damp and mould in the tiny, one-bed flat in which she lived with Telan, her son Taran, four, and her partner, Simon, may have contributed to her daughter’s death.
“Personally, I think the conditions of the flat may have contributed to what happened,” she said. City of York council does not accept that. The little girl’s death was a tragedy, said Steve Waddington, the authority’s assistant director for housing and community safety.
“It is very, very sad. But there is no evidence to suggest that the damp and conditions in the property have been an influencing factor in Telan’s death.”
Whatever the cause of the little girl’s death, her short life highlights the huge extremes of wealth and poverty that still continue to blight our society – even in a city as apparently prosperous as York.
Telan’s family had lived in their one-bed flat for almost three years. Before that, Kia and her son had lived in a privately rented two-bed house in Acomb. A fulltime mum, she paid the rent out of benefits.
Then, Kia said, the landlord decided to put the house up for sale. The asking price was £113,000.
“I didn’t have that kind of money.” Her tenancy agreement offered her no protection, because she was at the end of her one-year contract.
The city council offered her accommodation at the one-bed flat in Chapelfields. Kia was told she could reapply for a larger property once her son reached the age of two.
She did so. But with almost 4,800 people on the authority’s housing waiting list – hundreds of them assessed as being a greater priority than Telan and her family – and with only 500 or so council properties becoming available every year, the wait dragged on.
At first, when there were only her son and herself in the small flat, it wasn’t too bad, Kia said.
But then her partner, Simon, moved in too – and Telan was born. There were four of them in a cramped flat. A video commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for a series on poverty shows the bedroom: with a double bed for the adults, a single bed for Taran, and a cot for Telan, all crammed in together.
It was the damp and mould which bothered Kia most, however.
The bedroom wall was wet with condensation, and covered with mould.
Kia and Simon tried keeping the windows open, and cleaning and washing the walls with anti-fungal solution. But the mould always came back.
She complained repeatedly to the council, who sent a workman round to install humidity-controlled fans, which Kia says didn’t help.
The authority says it advised the family on how to reduce condensation.
It accepts that part of the problem was that there were four people and a dog living in a onebed flat.
But there is a massive shortage of housing in the city, Mr Waddington stressed. The council followed its housing policy to the letter.
A recent study commissioned by the council revealed the extent of the “poverty gap” in York. It showed a child born in the poorest parts of the city could expect, on average, to live 11 years less than a child born in a wealthy part of the city.
Telan Carlton’s life was a great deal shorter even than that. Kia has now been offered a larger flat.
“It is too little, too late,” she said.
It seemed like a normal day
OCTOBER 6 began just like any other day for Telan Carlton and her family. Mum Kia, step-dad Simon, brother Taran and little Telan herself had all gone into the centre of York for a day out, Telan in her pushchair.
They had tea at Wetherspoons, then went back home to their flat in Bramham Road, Chapelfields.
At 7.30pm, Kia fed Telan from a bottle, then put the little girl in her cot.
A short time later, Kia thought she heard coughing. She rushed through to check on her daughter. “She had stopped breathing,” she said.
Kia carried her through to the living room, where she, Simon and a neighbour tried desperately to revive the little girl while the ambulance was on its way.
Telan was rushed to York Hospital, where medics battled desperately to revive her. “I saw her laid there with all little tubes coming out everywhere,” Kia said.
Kia went outside for a moment – and when she came back in, it was all over.
“They told me there was nothing more they could do.”
Telan was buried at Fulford Cemetery on October 26. A couple of weeks later, on what would have been her first birthday - November 8 – the family held a celebration.
Telan’s brother, Taran, insisted, Kia says.
“He said we had to have a birthday cake because it was her birthday.”
Almost 4,800 on housing list
AS OF October this year, there were almost 4,800 people on City of York Council’s housing waiting list. With only about 500 to 550 council properties – and some others run by local housing authorities – becoming available each year, that can still mean a long wait for families who aren’t rated as being in most urgent need.
Telan’s family were rated as a silver priority – along with 1,949 others in York.
There are almost 340 families rated a gold priority – where there are two bedrooms fewer than the family needs, or there is a real health issue – and a very small number of emergency cases.
Telan’s family were rated only silver because while their flat was overcrowded, they were – within the terms of the council's housing policy – only one bedroom short of what they needed. It was expected that the two children should be able to share a bedroom.
The council admits that there is a massive housing shortage in York.
It estimates that York needs to build 778 new, affordable homes every year. With the recession having put a brake on development, that is not happening.
Recently, the council held a housing week to look at ways of encouraging more housebuilding.
It is also looking at ways of building new council homes, encouraging families to move into smaller council homes where appropriate, releasing larger homes for those who need them; and bringing more empty homes back into use.
The authority accepts that there is a real link between quality of housing and health.
A recent study commissioned by the council revealed that a child born in the poorest parts of York can expect to live 11 years less than a child born in a wealthier area of the city.
Foundation’s battle against poverty
THE York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation has set up a programme of work to try to fight poverty in the UK.
It is working to challenge the myths and stereotypes surrounding people who are struggling to make ends meet and is encouraging a national debate to find out what can be done.
The foundation has commissioned analysis and research, including a series of films on the frontline of poverty made for The Guardian newspaper by filmmaker Peter Gordon.
To find out more, go to jrf.org.uk and to view the films go to guardian.co.uk/society/video
Comments from City of York Council
Councillor Tracey Simpson-Laing, City of York Council's Cabinet Member for Health, Housing and Adult Social Services said: “My thoughts are with Kia and her family during this incredibly sad time and I am working with officers to ensure that support is provided to the family both in dealing with their loss and in moving to their new home.
“Here in York we have huge demand for our housing services and this is set to grow, with the current economy and York’s high house prices a significant contributing factor. This is not a situation unique to York however, it is reflected nationally. Legislation coming into force in April 2013 could impact further those people living in overcrowded conditions, as households eligible for housing benefit in registered social housing will be expected to contribute more to their rent if their number of bedrooms exceeds new Department for Work and Pensions guidelines.”
Sally Burns, City of York Council’s Director of Communities and Neighbourhoods said:
"Our heartfelt sympathies go to the Stone family for their tragic loss. At this very sad time and alongside the relevant partners we are supporting the family while they prepare to move into a home that better suits their needs.
"In York, as is the case in many other areas, we are seeing the impact of the current economic climate result in increased demand for our housing services, in particular access to housing. Our local housing market is also characterised by high house prices, which means those on lower incomes find it more difficult to get onto the housing ladder. We are also seeing the impact of reduced housing benefit entitlements and changes to the local housing allowance are impacting on lower income households.
“Against these pressures, we are working with partners to provide support for those families on our waiting list and to ensure that this is fair for all. We continue to operate within the national guidelines, alongside a number of housing associations, to increase the range of options open to people in need of housing and to work to address the issue of potential overcrowding.
“We must also continue to work to ensure people on our waiting lists are informed so that they understand the options open to them and to push forward with schemes such as the successful YorHome and the North Yorkshire Home Choice; to help people gain the right accommodate for their family, as quickly as possible.”