Almost two months after the Grenfell Tower fire survivors are still waiting to be rehoused.
“We don’t have a home to stay in so we have stayed in a hotel for six weeks,” said one survivor. “It’s no life in a hotel. We’ve got only two rooms.
“I have three daughters. One of them sleeps on the floor and the other two sleep in the bed.”
New Kensington and Chelsea council leader Elizabeth Campbell has said that 400 new homes will be built—but not for five years.
“It’s been seven weeks now and people are still living in hotels, it’s a disgrace,” Moyra Samuels from the Justice 4 Grenfell campaign told Socialist Worker. “People need to be rehoused now.”
The council has £250 million in reserves. It should be buying properties for sale, renting private accommodation or seizing second homes in the borough from the rich.
A new Grenfell Response Team (GRT) taskforce, set up last week, is due to be located in the Kensington and Chelsea town hall.
The residents’ association of the Lancaster West estate, which Grenfell Tower stands on, has condemned the move.
“There’s a huge potential conflict of interest there,” said Moyra. “The council is being investigated for its responsibility for the fire. Is it appropriate that this new taskforce which is taking over from the police Gold Command is housed in council offices?”
The fire also raises wider questions about the safety of buildings across Britain. Immediately after the fire there were many tests and audits. But what action follows?
The Genesis housing association has refused to take down cladding after two blocks it controls in Pitsea, Essex, failed government tests.
“We are not currently planning to remove the cladding from the buildings until updated government guidance is provided by the Department for Communities,” said a spokesperson.
It’s clear that housing bosses, government ministers and many council leaders would prefer to do as little as possible in response to Grenfell. We can’t allow them to get their way.
All 19 fire inspections in prisons last year failed, freedom of information (FoI) requests have revealed. There were 2,580 fires in prisons over the course of the year.
Mark Leech, who filed FoI requests to the prison service, said this was “a catastrophe waiting to happen”.
Many of the revelations that have followed Grenfell were known to residents and activists for years.
Out of its ashes must come a redoubled fight for a new generation of safe council housing.
‘This is like sitting on a tinder box’
Around 70 buildings have failed new fire safety checks ordered after the Grenfell fire. The tests, carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), focus on cladding and insulation.
Fire safety expert Dave spoke to Socialist Worker about the new “whole fire system” tests.
“If you look at the exterior of the building all you see is the aluminium outside,” he said. “It should have non-flammable insulation under the cladding, commonly made from Rockwool. You shouldn’t be able to ignite it.
“They won’t make any of the tests public. The tests for cladding are commonly on a six metre run sample. These tests are on a 250cm square sample.
“They haven’t released any of the results. Nobody in the industry knows what tests they’re doing or how they’ve done them.”
Of the 70, only nine blocks, in Salford, Greater Manchester, are local authority flats. Dave said, “Privately-owned blocks tend to go for the cheapest option.”
Tower block residents up and down Britain are living in fear that they might be next. One Salford resident described it as being “like sitting on a tinderbox”.
But the squeeze on local government funding threatens the upgrades required.
Professor of risk and crisis management Edward Borodzicz said, “I’m surprised having identified the faulty cladding that there’s even a discussion over who’s going to pay for it.
“This is something where central government should take responsibility.”
A corporate manslaughter verdict wouldn’t be justice
Police investigating the fire say they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect that corporate manslaughter offences have been committed.
Senior representatives of both the tenant management organisation (KCTMO) and the council will be asked to give evidence to the investigation.
Although some firms have been convicted in the past, the number is small.
Usually, unless there are further prosecutions under different laws, the penalty is limited to fines.
Those firms convicted tend to be smaller ones where it is easier to demonstrate a “controlling mind” who made the decision behind the acts of negligence that led to a death.
With a large body like the KCTMO or Kensington and Chelsea council, this may be more difficult.
One resident said, “Mass murder was committed at Grenfell Tower. To talk about corporate manslaughter is an insult.”