PRESS COMMENT – Immediate release
It is a breakthrough that, after months of refusing to do so, the government has finally agreed to fund the replacement of flammable cladding on social housing tower blocks. They are offering £400 million for replacement of cladding, and, we presume, insulation. This should significantly speed up the process. However, it is not nearly enough. Having conceded the principle, the government should now commit to fully covering the cost of the disaster that has been revealed by the Grenfell fire.
Inadequate regulation and inspection regimes have led to dangerous buildings across the UK. Residents must be fully protected from fire – and from cold – immediately and until the completion of works.
Fuel Poverty Action has since January been running a campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now (SCIN) and has gathered support for 10 demands from a very wide range of grassroots organisations, trade unions, and MPs, with more coming in every day. The demands can be seen here.
2) There is no mention, so far, of student residences, schools, or hospitals clad in the same materials, nor of buildings below the arbitrary 18M height limit. Will that be in James Brokenshire’s announcement?
3) Cold, like fire, kills. Even in a normal year, thousands die each year when they cannot heat their homes. Residents in many blocks already going through re-cladding know that when cladding is off in the winter, uninsulated flats are places of constant cold, condensation, damp and mould, and astronomical bills.
4) BBC research in December last year found that the cost of planned post-Grenfell fire safety measures for councils and housing associations alone had already reached at least £600m, a figure said to be likely to be a considerable underestimate. Meanwhile MHCLG handed back £817 million to the Treasury in unspent cash (originally earmarked for the Starter Homes, affordable homes and estate regeneration).
5) The other demands of our campaign remain crucially important, including proper consultation with residents, and immediate safe, good permanent housing in the area of their choice for all Grenfell survivors.
6) Funding alone will not prevent the same thing happening in the future. Tighter regulations need to be combined with accountability, and with the will and the capacity to monitor and inspect. New and refurbished homes should be safe and well-insulated in practice, not just in theory.
7) Crucially, the health and safety of residents must not be sacrificed during the process that the government now promises to fund. Works have gone on for months; some are scheduled for nearly two years, with housing way below any legal decent homes standards, and families constantly ill. Some local authorities, more than others, have taken steps to mitigate this nightmare. Will the government now guarantee that every possible measure will be taken to ensure residents’ safety and health during the process of re-cladding? Will they fund such a guarantee? And will they set deadlines for removal – and replacement – of cladding and insulation to ensure there are no further delays? The time for this work to happen is now – while the weather is warm.
This breakthrough is largely the result of pressure from grassroots organisers, beginning with Grenfell survivors who, in the worst conditions, have still included the fate of other tower block residents in their concerns.
We await James Brokenshire’s statement this week with great interest.