London Grenfell Tower disaster, learn from it

This video says about itself:

Surviving the Inferno: Escaping Grenfell Tower

20 July 2017

First-hand accounts of tragedy and survival from inside the deadliest fire in modern British history.

By Liz Davies in England:

The consequences of wealth before homes

Wednesday 26th July 2017

The Grenfell Tower tragedy shows how little our institutions care for the lives of black or poor people, writes LIZ DAVIES

THE Grenfell Tower fire is one of those dreadful defining moments, which can change public policy. The 1966 Aberfan disaster led to improved safety legislation for mines and quarries. The 1996 Dunblane shooting led to restricted gun ownership.

Immediately, public authorities must rehouse the residents (of the tower itself and the low-rise block in its shadow), provide mental and physical health services and help them to rebuild their lives. The council was slow to respond appropriately. Political pressure has led to rehousing plans which are far more than the legal minimum required.

That’s unsurprising given the tragic circumstances and the public reaction. But it also shows up just how inadequate the legal minimum is: homeless families who have become homeless for the more usual reasons of eviction or relationship breakdown are entitled to temporary accommodation while they wait for an offer of a 12-month private rented tenancy.

Both the temporary accommodation and the tenancy could be anywhere in the country, provided that the council considers it to be “suitable” — a very low threshold.

The government’s announcement that people made homeless from the fire will receive permanent accommodation in the locality within a year is appropriate; a better society would give the same offer to all homeless people.

In the long-term, those bereaved, displaced, traumatised need justice. “Justice4Grenfell” is already a slogan, the name of a campaign group and a Twitter hashtag.

What does “justice” mean in practice? It means not being put in a worse position than they were: rehoused, given facilities and compensation (although money is never an adequate remedy for this trauma).

It means not being treated harshly: those residents who might have had uncertain immigration status should not be deported. And it means answers so that it cannot happen again.

So the Moore-Bick inquiry, if it is to provide justice, has a big job on its hands. First, there has to be a comprehensive, but urgent, investigation into the causes of the fire and the reason for so many deaths — so that other tower blocks can be made safe.

How did the fire start? Why did it spread so quickly? Were the installations, including the cladding, of low quality? Should there have been sprinklers in the common parts? Why was the means of escape so limited?

Moore-Bick needs to make recommendations as to proper levels of fire safety, adequate escape, and the correct instructions to residents. If a fire can spread so rapidly, the instructions to remain in the flats were surely wrong.

Second, the reasons behind any inadequate building works need exploring. What was the budget and to what extent were cheaper materials used, with consequences for fire safety? Who was responsible for inspection of the works? What did the inspection reveal? How comprehensive was it? And how accountable was the inspection — were the works independently inspected or signed off by the contractors involved?

How many contractors and subcontractors were employed and what was the system of accountability for their work to the council? How many layers were there between companies on the ground, the Tenant Management Organisation and the council?

Above all, why were the residents not listened to? It is beyond heartbreaking to read the Grenfell Action Group blog from 2013 warning of electrical power surges throughout the building, and inadequate means of escape, and with no response from the authorities. Was that contempt for residents? An impenetrable bureaucracy?

Third, there are some very deep structural issues to be considered. The residents have complained that they tried to seek legal advice, to take action against the council, and that legal aid was not available.

Legal aid cuts have certainly reduced free legal advice available since 2013.

But even when there was a more generous legal aid scheme, it would have taken some inventive and creative lawyering to produce any legal remedies for the residents.

That’s because there are very few legal avenues available for council tenants: the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System (HHSRS) in the Housing Act 2004 provides remedies for councils to take enforcement measures against private landlords, on behalf of private tenants.

Council tenants can sue their landlords for disrepair, but inadequate fire safety installations would not be disrepair.

Councils are liable to tenants for any personal injury caused by defects to the common parts, but only once the personal injury has been suffered.

Lawyers could reel off parts of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the Defective Premises Act 1972, the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 and several more statutes. Each one is limited. There is no comprehensive legal remedy.

The inquiry could usefully consider whether housing law could be codified, so that there are easily enforceable rights to a safe, secure, warm and decent home.

Kensington and Chelsea has consistently topped the list of boroughs with the highest number of empty properties. The council’s website offers financial help to homeowners, to persuade them to let out the properties.

But it doesn’t tackle the basic problem, which is that properties, particularly in London, are now bought as capital investments, rather than to be lived in, or let out.

The owners don’t want them to be occupied; they just want to watch the capital value increase.

Our economy has prioritised home ownership as a source of wealth, rather than providing homes.

Moore-Bick should investigate the very limited ability of councils to buy up empty properties, and consider systems that would effectively penalise investors leaving homes empty.

Underpinning all of these issues is an inequality of power.

Council tenants don’t have the same clout as richer tenants, or owner-occupiers.

For over 35 years, national governments have systematically underfunded social housing. Council housing stock has diminished — through transfer to housing associations, right to buy and restrictions on councils’ ability to borrow and build more properties.

People waiting for council housing are desperate, and treated as desperate. They are given one offer of social housing only, told to “take it or leave it,” however inadequate it may seem.

Add in that those waiting for council housing are disproportionately from black and ethnic minority communities and there is a real sense that black lives — or poor lives — don’t matter.

Liz Davies is a legal aid barrister specialising in housing and homelessness law. She is the honorary vice-president of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. She writes in a personal capacity.

54 thoughts on “London Grenfell Tower disaster, learn from it

  1. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower disaster interview | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower disaster, will there be arrests? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower, will there be accountability? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: ‘London Grenfell Tower disaster, never again’ | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower area Conservative social cleansing | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Stop British government whitewashing Grenfell Tower disaster, firefighters say | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  7. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower accountability demanded by firefighters | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  8. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower disaster and after | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  9. Pingback: After London Grenfell Tower disaster, still no fire safety | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  10. Pingback: British government Grenfell Tower disaster cover-up? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  11. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower survivors not getting money donated for them | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  12. Pingback: After Grenfell Tower disaster, against London social cleansing | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  13. Pingback: After Grenfell Tower disaster, more fire unsafety in England | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  14. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower disaster news | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  15. Pingback: London Underground terror and Conservative austerity | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  16. Pingback: British Conservative government damages fire safety | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  17. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower inflammable cladding scandal cover-up | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  18. Pingback: London Grenfell disaster, many people want justice | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  19. Pingback: British Conservative government against fire safety | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  20. Pingback: Lethal fire in China, police arrests suspects | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  21. Pingback: London Grenfell disaster, Conservatives don’t learn from it | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  22. Pingback: London Grenfell disaster survivors deserve justice, singer Adele says | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  23. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower disaster, after six months | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  24. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower disaster, new film reviewed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  25. Pingback: Thousands commemorate London Grenfell Tower disaster | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  26. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower fire survivors interviewed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  27. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower survivors deceived by government | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  28. Pingback: London Grenfell Tower disaster, corporations guilty | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  29. Pingback: British rulers against Grenfell Tower disaster survivors | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  30. Pingback: Grenfell Tower fire not forgotten in London, England | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  31. Pingback: British ‘Grenfell’ flammable cladding replaced at just three tower blocks | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  32. Pingback: ‘Grenfell’ flammable cladding all over Britain | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  33. Pingback: London Grenfell area homeless told to pay rent | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  34. Pingback: Grenfell Tower inflammable cladding was never tested | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  35. Pingback: Murdoch media smear London Grenfell disaster survivor | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  36. Pingback: British Conservative OK for flammable cladding | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  37. Pingback: London Grenfell disaster survivor Joe Delaney interviewed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  38. Pingback: British Conservative neglect of fire safety doors | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  39. Pingback: London Grenfell disaster survivors still homeless | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  40. Pingback: British Conservatives sabotaging fire safety | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  41. Pingback: ‘London Grenfell fire disaster was murder’ | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  42. Pingback: London Grenfell disaster area residents speak out | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  43. Pingback: London Conservative politicians blamed for flammable Grenfell Tower cladding | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  44. Pingback: British Grenfell disaster and Conservative government | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  45. Pingback: London Grenfell disaster, Conservative government whitewash | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  46. Pingback: British firefighters’ tribute to Grenfell disaster victims | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  47. Pingback: ‘Grenfell’ flammable cladding in Australia | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  48. Pingback: British government excludes bereaved relatives from Grenfell disaster inquiry | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  49. Pingback: Grenfell disaster, royal wedding in Britain | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  50. Pingback: British police scapegoating firefighters for Grenfell disaster instead of politicians, businessmen | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.