Grenfell One Year On

03 Jul 2018
June 14, I joined thousands on the powerful Grenfell Tower silent march. We marched in memory of those who one year before had lost their lives and in solidarity with their loved ones who are fighting for justice and we pledged that we will never forget.
This catastrophic fire just over a year ago claimed 72 lives, the highest loss of life in a residential fire since World War II.
The Grenfell Action Group’s now chillingly prophetic blog had predicted that it would take a serious fire and loss of life for their voices to be heard.
Their voices were unheard before the fire and on many key issues remain so to this day,
When a tragedy of this magnitude takes place, the national government and local authority should aim to do everything in its power to address the needs of survivors and the bereaved.
Instead, families and survivors have again and again had to face enormous hurdles, struggling to achieve what is their due.
In particular, the Prime Minister's offer of rehousing within three weeks —and the council’s promise that it would be housed within a year of the fire — have been broken.
A year on, survivors are still in hotels. As of the start of June, less than half of the households in need of permanent homes have moved into them. Many of them are families with young children.
All Grenfell residents want is a decent home and to be closer to their children’s schools and existing social connections. The government and local authority must deliver this.
In light of these and other failures, I have called for commissioners to be brought in to run the failing borough of Kensington and Chelsea for months and the case for this grows stronger by the day.
Theresa May’s apology over the inadequate response is too little too late for a community that was in need of urgent action on rehousing, fire safety and justice from day one.
Indeed, while the Prime Minister apologised last week for not meeting victims in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, for many in the community this was too little too late and there is no doubt that her absence depended the sense of abandonment among survivors.
It was also a disgrace that it took a public outcry for the Prime Minister to finally grant them additional panel members to sit alongside the judge, but this is only for the second phase of the inquiry.
This could have been done months ago, sparing them this distress.
They need to grieve and are attempting to rebuild their lives. Imran Khan, a key adviser to Stephen Lawrence’s family, is right to call for the inquiry terms to be broadened to consider whether race,  religion or social class played a part in the residents’ treatment.
It’s important to remember that the tragic fire at Grenfell was avoidable, and it must never happen again.
Recommendations after the Lakanal House fire in 2013 to retrofit sprinklers in high-rise buildings could have made a difference to Grenfell Tower.
Around the world, major fires in high-rise buildings have seen lives saved by sprinkler systems. Yet during a debate on implementing fire sprinkler regulations in 2014, Brandon Lewis reiterated the Tories’ commitment to be the first government to reduce health and safety regulation. In order to bring in one new regulation, two other regulations had to come out.
Sprinklers are fitted in MPs’ offices in Parliament. If they are good enough for MPs, they are good enough for social housing tenants.
Even now the government should act to make the funds available for the retrofitting of sprinklers in high-rise buildings across the country.
Even after Grenfell, urgent action was not taken to remove flammable cladding on social and private housing, meaning tower block residents cannot sleep safely in their homes.
Eleven months later, ministers finally agreed to fund cladding removal from tower blocks around the country.
Firefighters risked their own lives to save lives during the Grenfell catastrophe, yet austerity continues for the fire and rescue service and the key demands of the Fire Brigades Union are ignored again and again by the government.
The Tory culture of cuts to budgets and deregulation has come back to haunt us all.
Boris Johnson replying: “Get stuffed” to concerns about his cuts and closures to the fire service as mayor of London was as callous as it was indefensible.
One year on, closure is nowhere in sight for those whose lives the fire ruined. They have lost loved ones, had their homes destroyed and their trust in the authorities broken.
The devastating ordeal survivors and bereaved families have been through are a scar on the nation’s conscience. The government must urgently address all the outstanding issues.
The fire must become a turning point, leading to lasting change that overhauls all parts of the system that allowed this disaster to happen.
And May must listen fully to the demands of the survivors and bereaved of Grenfell.

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