Next Monday (14th June) marks the fourth anniversary of the fire at Grenfell Tower in which 72 people lost their lives – one of the greatest housing injustices this country has seen. But the Government is still delaying the legal changes promised to make sure it never happens again. So still, we wait for justice.
Time to remember
The anniversary is a day for quiet reflection. Grenfell United, the survivors, bereaved and residents group, are encouraging supporters to ‘go green for Grenfell’ and to take time to remember the 54 adults and 18 children who lost their lives. The group will be hosting and streaming a virtual vigil at 7pm.
But beyond the 14th, the fight for justice goes on. Grenfell United have fought for four long years for a legacy to those who died, and for justice for the survivors and bereaved. One crucial part of that legacy is a tougher, more proactive regulation of social housing. Change is needed to make sure residents feel safe and listened to.
Time to act
A year after the fire, Theresa May promised a ‘new deal for social housing’. Two years later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised changes to the law to strengthen the regulation of social housing, and make sure ‘social housing tenants are treated with the respect they deserve’.
This widely supported legislation would be quick to introduce. But it wasn’t included in this year’s Queen’s Speech. Instead, the Government said it will ‘look to legislate as soon as practicable’. It appears to have been kicked into the long grass – yet again.
Four years on from the fire, this delay is unacceptable. If Ministers are to honour promises made to tenants, they must make the parliamentary time to finally get this law passed.
Grenfell had its roots in stigma and discrimination
As the inquiry into the causes, scale and consequences of the fire unfolds, one thing seems clear to us: the tragic loss of life was avoidable. But stigma and discrimination – embedded in a social housing system where residents are all too often ignored – meant it was bound to happen. Instead, tenants were labelled ‘rebels’ by those who were paid to refurbish Grenfell Tower safely, simply for raising complaints about the building.
Leslie Thomas QC, representing the families of 23 victims, told the inquiry last year that the 2017 fire was ‘inextricably linked with race’. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s response to the inquiry also links the fire to discrimination. 85% of the people who died were from ethnic minority backgrounds, who are disproportionately housed in tower blocks. A number were disabled or older people living on high floors. And the routine dismissal of residents’ concerns before the fire reveals the prejudice social tenants all too often experience.
The fire may not have happened if the residents of Grenfell Tower were treated with the respect they deserve – and their landlord’s cavalier attitude to standards had been brought to light by a tougher, more proactive Regulator of Social Housing. Four years later, appalling conditions and a ‘lack of care and respect for tenants’ are still being reported, yet the Regulator can still only intervene after it finds a risk of ‘serious detriment’ – often difficult for residents to argue until disaster strikes.
We know social housing needs to change
It’s clear that social housing and the way its managed needs to change. Justice for the victims, their families and the community won’t be achieved until the law on regulation is changed to ensure tenants can’t be ignored. This means changing the culture on the inside, and tough enforcement from the outside. Tenants need a system that takes their concerns seriously, treats them humanely and takes tough action if landlords fall short.
November’s Social Housing White Paper promised vital changes. Following three and a half years of tireless campaigning from the community, it promised to introduce an inspection regime for social landlords and remove barriers that tenants face addressing complaints. While the devil will be in the detail, we welcomed the intent of the White Paper.
But the government have delayed again
A simple change in the law is needed to get the ball rolling and allow the Regulator of Social Housing to start designing the new system. But these vital reforms appear to have fallen below other priorities, like planning reform. It appears the government has little intention of changing the law on regulation this coming year, when the legislation should (after four years) be ready to go. If the Government takes its promises to council and housing association tenants seriously, it must now find the time the act.
Please lend your support
We encourage everyone to make time on Monday to remember the 72 people who died in the fire at Grenfell Tower. And to spare a thought for the survivors, families and community – exhausted by the long fight for justice and feeling betrayed by this latest delay. We are by their side in demanding change for the 72. We urge ministers to mark the anniversary by honouring their promises of a new system of social housing regulation. One that puts the lives and wellbeing of residents at its heart.