The atrocity of Grenfell has exposed a series of disaster areas that are set to cause yet more destruction and loss of life, all around the country. In every area people are fighting for safety and security in our housing.
On the front line, we know, are Grenfell survivors and members of their community, many still crammed into hotel rooms and fighting for permanent homes, the right to stay in Britain, or support to recover from heartbreak and loss. Right behind them are the residents of other tower blocks. People who’ve been told they must go to bed each night in a flammable building unless and until they themselves can find the money to replace cladding. And people who have had the cladding and insulation stripped off their buildings, for safety, but who now find their homes exposed to freezing winds, and damp, for months, or even years. The last, freezing winter was torture for many; with climate change the next is likely to be just as bad. To see how estates in northwest London experienced the winter see our video and petition;
Fuel Poverty Action has started a campaign, called SCIN — Safe Cladding and Insulation Now, for central government funding to replace all flammable cladding and insulation immediately, starting with high rise blocks. Largely responsible for the run-down of regulations and inspection regimes that led to the disaster in the first place, the government promised after the fire to “keep our people safe”;
— but have not offered a penny. They are the ones who have the necessary resources to get the job done quickly, for all. Local authorities have been stripped of their funds, with support for councils halved since 2010, and vital services and repairs already cut to the bone;
We are also demanding that until the works are complete, no resident should have to pay for fire wardens, or the astronomical heating bills in de-clad buildings, and every possible measure should be taken to maintain safety, warmth, and health. See our list of demands;
We are writing to the new Housing Minister with these demands. Many organisations and prominent individuals have already signed on to this open letter and are considering affiliating to SCIN:
The letter will be delivered to the Minister on 11 June – save the date and let us know if you would like to be there!
But what needs to change now goes far beyond this.
Behind the facade of a caring, democratic political system, Grenfell has exposed:
● Social housing where residents – the experts on their buildings and communities – cannot make themselves heard.
● A construction industry driven by perverse incentives and conflicts of interest, without effective monitoring, inspection, or clear lines of accountability.
● Regulations compromised by commercial interests including the plastics industry (searching for markets for a tide of petrochemicals fracked in the USA).
● Privatised and ineffective inspection of building processes and materials.
● Local government removed from the control of local people.
● Central government which has clawed back the money on which safety depends.
● Ill equipped, ill funded fire services and a shortage of fire experts.
● Run-down skills and capacity in construction, manufacturing, and research.
● Housing standards, duties of care, and laws on wilful neglect that can be breached with impunity, in a crisis like the present one, and even on a routine basis, day to day.
● Regeneration that breaks up the communities on which rest people’s health and happiness
● Leasehold contracts that leave residents without effective protection from their landlords
● A system of financial auditing – the critical safety net against corruption and corner-cutting — where the auditors are financially linked to the businesses they are inspecting.
● Hundreds of thousands of flats sitting empty, many bought up as investments for the portfolios of billionaires, while people sleep on the streets outside, and Grenfell families, like others made homeless, are crammed into a hotel room;
Small wonder that as cladding comes down from new or refurbished buildings, local authorities are finding that the glossy exterior has been concealing missing fire-breaks and insulation, faulty structural fixings, holes in walls and floors, and inferior materials – the basics are not there.
Critically, they have found insulation missing – a scandal FPA are very familiar with, as residents on new build housing estates contact us, unable to heat their homes. Their homes have high EPC ratings – deemed good on “energy performance”, but thermal imaging shows where contractors have simply saved money by leaving insulation out. UK homes – for this reason and because little is being done to tackle draughty, damp, and hard to heat older housing – are among the coldest in Europe. Landlords’ legal obligations, such as they are, are not enforced, and central government funding, which paid for health and safety officers, has been taken back by Whitehall. Official standards for insulation, won over decades of pressure by energy and fuel poverty lobbyists, are still there, on paper, but are missing on the walls.
As the changing climate removes the blanket of Jet Stream protection which has until now kept the UK climate temperate, the first people to pay will be those on low incomes living in poorly insulated housing. Many will pay with their lives. Every winter thousands of people die in this rich country, because they cannot heat their homes. Like fire, cold kills.
The Grenfell Inquiry, the Hackitt Review, all the meetings, all the demonstrations, cannot be allowed to lead to business as usual. The present lifting of the cover on “the way things are done” gives us all a moment of power.
At our meeting “Dying from Fire, Dying from Cold”, Ishmael Francis-Murray who made the great film ‘Failed by the State’ said, “If we don’t get change through this, we never will. Right now we have a chance.”
Change must begin with justice and security for Grenfell survivors – and with warm, safe homes for all whose buildings have been immediately affected by this disaster. It must then reach further.