Socialist Worker

Grenfell residents still homeless six months after fire

With the inquiry into the causes of the Grenfell Tower beginning this week, Alistair Farrow looks at how the evacuated residents are still searching for justice—and new homes to live in

Issue No. 2584

Demanding justice outside Kensington and Chelsea Council

Demanding justice outside Kensington and Chelsea Council (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The inquiry into the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire began on Monday.

Yet many residents are already sceptical that the inquiry will help to deliver justice—as they expressed in a letter recently.

And six months since the fire happened—and as Christmas nears—many people are still living in hotels and temporary accommodation.

Tasha Brade from the Justice4Grenfell campaign spoke to Socialist Worker. “Six months on and only 20 percent of people have been rehoused,” she said.

“Survivors and families are still living in hotels—that’s their reality.

Over 40 children will be in hotels over Christmas. People have been treated appallingly.

Some 166 households are still in temporary housing.

“We need to keep having protests and silent marches so people don’t forget,” said Tasha.

“The silent marches are getting bigger each month—it shows we’re not going anywhere.

“Petitions can help keep the pressure on as well.”

Rehoused

Immediately after the fire Tory prime minister Theresa May said survivors would be rehoused within three weeks.

But housing minister Alok Sharma has recently said it could take until next June

Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea council leader Elizabeth Campbell backed this up at a council meeting last Wednesday.

Survivors and evacuees are being ignored. The Walkways are the low-rise blocks attached to Grenfell Tower. Kensington and Chelsea council are considering proposals that people displaced from the Walkways by the fire be given two offers of alternative housing.

The Grenfell Tower fire and the anger that refuses to fade
The Grenfell Tower fire and the anger that refuses to fade
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The standard for people on council waiting lists is three offers.

The council justify this by saying that people can move back in to their refurbished flats.

But many people living in the Walkways saw their neighbours kill themselves by jumping from Grenfell Tower. They should not be expected to move back there.

Former Walkways resident Joe Delaney slammed the proposal as “a load of crap”.

“It demonstrates a lack of compassion about this situation. I will be fighting this tooth and nail,” he said.

Director of Justice4Grenfell Judy Bolton said, “Grenfell Tower burned because of austerity. People were made involuntarily homeless because of the fire”.

She added that people still waiting for a new permanent home “can’t put their children to bed or make a simple dinner.”


Protest challenges council

Some 100 people gathered to protest outside the last council meeting of 2017 last Wednesday.

Moyra Samuels from the Justice4Grenfell campaign said, “If this council can’t step up then they need to step down,”

People heard from housing campaigners and workers about the fight for decent housing.

A message was read out from the president of the National Education Union, Louise Regan.

Defend Council Housing chair Eileen Short said, “We have to get out of the habit of thinking that the fight for justice for Grenfell is just the job of the people who live in North Kensington”.

“Anybody who cares about tenants’ rights and housing and justice—it’s our job to force the government to take action.

“They think they can get away with leaving people to rot.”

Labour MPs Kate Osamor and Emma Dent-Coad spoke to the crowd.

Dent-Coad said she did not trust the Tories in the council and that they must be held to account.


Tories purge their councillors

The local Tory party purged 17 councillors in the run up to last Wednesday’s Kensington and Chelsea council meeting.

They want to sanitise the local party’s image before the local elections in May 2018.

They need to convince people they have changed so they can win the election.

Inside the meeting current council leader Elizabeth Campbell said, “All of us sympathise with those who are still living in hotels with their children, especially at Christmas.”

Eleven councillors have stepped down and a further six were deselected. The 17 include Nicholas Paget-Brown, the former Tory council leader.

He stepped down after a half-hearted apology where he agreed to take a “share of responsibility” for the “perceived failings”.

Eve Allison, the only black Tory councillor, said she had been a victim of “pseudo-racism, classism and elitism.”

Other councillors claimed to have been forced into stepping down.

Judy Bolton of Justice4Grenfell said, “The Tories need to start treating people with respect and take responsibility for the tragedy they have caused”.


You can’t substitute for safety

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for £1 billion to be made available immediately for sprinkler systems. He’s right—we need action now.

The Tories have refused to make funds available for fire safety work after Grenfell.

That means essential maintenance work on housing won’t be carried out as housing associations and councils invest in fire safety over maintenance.

In an indicator of that, maintenance contractor Mears has forecast a “further softening of revenues”, which its boss attributes to the Grenfell fire.

Maintenance should not be contracted out to private companies out to make a profit. It should be carried out by workers directly employed by the bodies which own the housing.

But fire safety and maintenance are two sides of the same coin—delaying one to focus on the other is a false economy. Decades of running down estates mean another Grenfell is inevitable.

In Fulham, west London, structural engineers have discovered cracks in the infrastructure of two 1960s tower blocks.

This could make it easier for a fire to spread from flat to flat. The council has appointed fire safety wardens to monitor the blocks, but they can’t stop a fire from spreading and killing people.


 


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