Socialist Worker

Anger forces Tory council to back down from threat to Grenfell estate residents—again

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2623

Grenfell Tower still looms over nearby estates

Grenfell Tower still looms over nearby estates (Pic: Guy Smallman)

A storm of anger has forced Kensington and Chelsea council to back down from their latest attack on people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

People who had been living in the shadow of Grenfell Tower until the fire in June 2017 were told on Wednesday they must move back into their homes. If they did not, the council threatened, they would lose their council tenancies.

“If you do not feel able to return home you will have to end your council tenancy,” read the letter.

People are being housed in temporary accommodation that costs hundreds of pounds a week, often in expensive areas in the borough they did not ask to be moved to.

If their council tenancies are taken away they would have to meet that cost themselves, with the shortfall unlikely to be bridged by housing benefit.

Local Labour MP Emma Dent-Coad said, “The deadline is creating a climate of fear which is both inhumane and hindering the ability of deeply traumatised people to make important decisions about their futures.”

How can we get justice for Grenfell victims?
How can we get justice for Grenfell victims?
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But, under pressure, the council has backed down from its threat.

Residents are rightly outraged by the council’s latest attempted act of cruelty.

One person who has special accessibility needs would have been affected. She was told to move back into her flat, but can’t do so until her needs have been met.

“People are more than willing to go back, but they can’t because their homes are still not safe” said Joe Delaney, one of the 80 people affected.

The council has made these threats before, but backed down then as well. This latest episode shows how the council, and central government, can be forced to back down and make concessions.

“People have been waiting for months to move out. It’s ridiculous that all of a sudden everything is expected to be done in 10 days,” said Joe. “The council has had months to sort this out and they’ve done nothing.

“They continue to manage a PR disaster. But they’re forgetting about the humanitarian one for which they are at least partly responsible, and are making worse through their callous actions.”

Tories promise money to housing association fat cats

Demanding affordable council homes

Demanding rent controls and affordable council homes (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Tories’ latest housing announcement is smoke and mirrors.

£2 billion of “new money” has been promised. But the cash isn’t available until 2022, which means that it would be the next government that brings the change in. And no government can be bound to introduce a policy by the previous one.

Theresa May announced the new policy at the conference of the National Housing Federation—the body which represents housing associations.

On top of there is real doubt about where the £2 billion is coming from.

The Tories have said it is separate from the £9 billion currently committed to the Affordable Homes Programme until 2022. But there was no information on what level of funding the post-2022 programme would receive, or what proportion of it the £2 billion would make up.

And the “new money” will go to housing associations. These are increasingly behaving like private firms—building homes for sale rather than for rent.

When they do rent homes out they charge exorbitant fees of up to 80 percent of market rents. This is what the Tories’ “affordable” housing looks like—unaffordable for the vast majority of people.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, wrote after the latest announcement, "Last year, England eked out just over 5,000 social homes - the lowest rate of social housebuilding since WWII. Meanwhile, more than 300,000 people were officially recorded as homeless and 1.2 million households remain on social housing waiting lists."

Even the Tory chair of the Local Government Association, Gary Porter, begged central government to loosen restrictions on council borrowing for building council homes.

“You asked for government support. You have it,” May told delegates on Wednesday.

“Now it is your turn to act, building the homes we need and challenging the attitudes that hold us back.”

She said, “For many people, a certain stigma still clings to social housing.”

Most Tories fall into that group—from May herself who ran away to avoid meeting Grenfell survivors, to David Cameron who singled out “100 slum estates” for demolition.

So what’s Labour’s alternative?

In response to May’s speech shadow housing minister John Healey said, “If Conservative ministers are serious about fixing the housing crisis they should back Labour's plans to build a million genuinely affordable homes, including the biggest council house-building programme for more than 30 years.”

Half of these will be council or housing association.

At the same conference Healey made a speech promising £200 million of grants and £4 billion in borrowing guarantees for smaller housing associations.

May’s promises on housing are worthless. Labour needs a really radical alternative—a million council homes in five years, rent controls and democratic planning.

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