Tens of thousands of people are suffering stress living in unsafe buildings because of the Tories’ failure to get rid of dangerous cladding.
A report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of MPs on Wednesday denounced the government’s “pie-in-the-sky promises” to fix the buildings. It comes over three years after the Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people in west London.
The PAC said that dangerous cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower remains on hundreds of residential buildings. Nearly two thirds of high rise buildings with similar cladding to Grenfell—300 out of 455—have still not had it replaced.
This “unacceptably slow” progress showed that leaseholders have been victims of a “system-wide failure”.
The government estimates that a further 1,700 high-rise buildings have other forms of unsafe cladding. An “unknown number” that are under 18 metres also have unsafe cladding.
Residents living in affected blocks said that safety worries have damaged their mental health. Some also face increased costs of funding measures such as “waking watches”—constant patrols to monitor buildings for signs of fire.
These can cost “between £12,000 and £45,000 per week per building depending on the number of individuals and hours covered”.
Many people who own their homes now find themselves trapped, unable to sell them because they are unsafe.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) had pledged to replace all Grenfell-style cladding on buildings above 18 metres by June this year. Yet it has “missed its target badly” and has paid out just £134 million of the £600 million fund for the works.
The government’s new target is for the works to be completed by the end of next year.
The PAC said the MHCLG has no plans to support the removal of dangerous cladding in buildings below 18 metres. And it has no plans to cover the costs of waking watches or dealing with other serious defects uncovered by post-Grenfell inspections.
In March the government promised a further £1 billion to fund the replacement of other forms of dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings. But the PAC said up to £3.5 billion would likely be needed.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said, “Thousands of people have been condemned to lives of stress and fear.”
The PAC said residents had submitted evidence to it highlighting “the feeling of being trapped and the daily emotional strain”.
It referred to a survey of 550 residents living in unsafe buildings carried out by the UK Cladding Action Group in June this year. This found that nine out of ten people surveyed said their mental health had deteriorated as a direct result of cladding issues.
Nearly a quarter had considered self-harm or suicide.
One respondent wrote, “I feel hopeless. I feel as a mother I cannot provide a safe home for my child or be a good parent.”
Cladding had been replaced on two thirds of student accommodation blocks by April this year, and nearly half of social housing buildings. But just 13.5 percent of private sector homes had been fixed.
The PAC added that the problems go beyond replacing cladding. “A lack of skills, capacity and access to insurance is hampering efforts to improve or simply assure the structural safety of apartment blocks,” it said.
“The building regulation system has not been fit for purpose for many years.”
The report is the latest to show how the push to privatisation and deregulation in the housing market, where profit is the priority, risks lives.