Survivors and bereaved family members from the Grenfell Tower fire have called on the government to put “lives before money” and bring an end to the cladding scandal gripping the UK.
Speaking as the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign relaunched, survivors spoke of their frustration at the slow progress to remove dangerous cladding from other buildings around the UK.
Nabil Choucair, who lost six family members in the blaze in June 2017, told Inside Housing: “It’s sickening that there are so many other buildings with dangerous cladding. They should have learned from Grenfell but they haven’t.
“It’s all down to money and not about people’s lives. If it’s going to cost them money to remove the cladding, they don’t want to know. Lives should come first before profit. It’s as simple as that.”
Mariko Toyoshima-Lewis, a wheelchair-using lady who was rescued from her third floor flat shortly after 2am, said: “From my window, I saw how quickly the fire spread up the outside of the building. When I finally escaped, I could see the burning cladding dripping down.”
“I was very lucky to survive. So many people close to me were tragically lost in the fire, which should never have happened. It breaks my heart to think of the people who were lost because profit was put before human life. Life is more important than money”.
Ms Toyoshima-Lewis said she gave evidence to the inquiry in the belief that it would lead to change, but three years on she feels anger at the failure to implement its recommendations. She believes that this means night after night thousands of families try to sleep with the continuous fear of what may happen.
She added: “These dangerous materials shouldn’t be on buildings and the government must make sure they are removed.”
She also said she desperately hopes for the implementation of the other recommendations, including a policy for evacuating disabled residents.
Marcio Gomes, who lost his unborn son Logan in the fire, said: “We had faith that giving evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry would be our way of stopping such a tragedy ever happening again. However, this faith has been gradually eroded away, not by the inquiry itself, but by those with the power to make the relevant changes.
“We have passed yet another anniversary without even the simplest recommendations being implemented. The continuing failure to implement the lifesaving recommendations makes it clear that nobody is listening and the lost lives mean very little.”
The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign – devised by Inside Housing alongside residents of affected blocks, survivors’ group Grenfell United and lawyers representing families at the inquiry – sets out 10 steps to speed up the remediation of affected buildings (see box below).
It is calling on the government to lead an urgent, national effort to remediate high rises and pay for the work up front before reclaiming from those responsible.
Currently 291 buildings with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding have still not completed remediation work and 2,957 blocks have registered for a government fund to remove cladding materials of other kinds.
The government has put £1.6bn into removal work but has said this will be the limit of the funding it provides. The full cost of remediating affected buildings around England is estimated at £15bn.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “We’re making homes safer, providing £1.6bn to get unsafe cladding off homes and bringing forward the most significant building safety improvements in almost 40 years .
“Progress is being made with work [and is] complete or under way in more than 70% of buildings with ACM cladding, rising to above 90% in the social housing sector.”
Based on the recommendations of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee and backed by a range of sector bodies and MPs from across the political spectrum, these are Inside Housing’s 10 steps to End Our Cladding Scandal:
Individuals and experts:
Lord Young of Cookham (Conservative)
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: “The Grenfell Tower fire should have been the tragic wake-up call ministers needed to improve building safety. Instead, more than three years on, thousands of Londoners continue to live in unsafe accommodation, dealing with the stress and uncertainty of building owners dragging their feet and the government failing to take responsibility.
“I welcome the work carried out by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee and I’m proud to back Inside Housing’s campaign to end our cladding scandal.”
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham: “Three years after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, thousands of people in Greater Manchester and across the country are still trapped in unsafe flats and facing huge bills. To leave people in limbo in this way is quite simply a shameful state of affairs.
“In Greater Manchester, we established the High Rise Task Force to support our residents and campaign for change, including organising a lobby of Parliament. We will continue to support the Manchester Cladiators and the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign in any way we can and fully endorse this new 10-point plan. It is time for the government to end the cladding nightmare that is blighting so many lives and turn words into action.”
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation: “Three years on from the Grenfell fire – which caused the greatest loss of life from a fire in Britain since World War II – people up and down the country continue to live in homes with unsafe materials. This crisis must end.
“The government must lead a national, co-ordinated fire safety programme to prioritise works on buildings that are most at risk, while ensuring there are enough experts and resources to complete all safety works. In the meantime, the government must find a viable solution which gives lenders confidence and allows people to sell and remortgage their homes.”
Grenfell United, a group of bereaved families and survivors from the fire: “It’s been three years since the fire that took the lives of our loved ones and neighbours. With this dangerous cladding still on buildings, all it will take is a simple kitchen fire to cause another Grenfell. It could happen at any moment.
“Only the government has the capacity to sort this mess out. They haven’t done enough and every month they stall, they are willingly leaving thousands of people in danger. Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick need to step up and make this right.”
Gavin Smart, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing: “The task of removing unsafe cladding from an at-risk building is huge – however, the impact on residents who are living in such blocks cannot be underestimated.
“While the government has pledged a Building Safety Fund to support the removal of unsafe cladding, action has not been swift or targeted enough. Government needs to take action to co-ordinate an approach that ensures that no one continues to leave in fear in their homes.”
Labour shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury: “Over three years on from Grenfell, where 72 people lost their lives, thousands of residents are living in flammable buildings in desperate circumstances. This cladding scandal is now at crisis point, people cannot secure mortgages, flats are unsellable, and waking watch and insurance premiums are beyond the means of leaseholders.
“This call is a call for urgent and decisive action from the government by campaigners up and down the land.”
Jane Duncan, chair of the expert advisory group on fire safety at the Royal Institute of British Architects: “The fact many thousands of people remain at financial risk and in fear for their lives because they are still living in buildings with dangerous combustible cladding is appalling.
“Alongside the extension of the Building Safety Fund, immediate measures must be taken to remediate these buildings and the Building Safety Bill must deliver to ensure no one has to experience such a disastrous ‘cladding scandal’ again.”
Michael Mansfield QC, representing a collective of lawyers working for Grenfell Tower families: “There are many more Grenfell fires waiting to happen. Thousands of citizens are at risk.
“After three years it is a disgrace that this risk has not been eradicated by the removal of all combustible cladding. With the advent of more lockdown, the message is clear and urgent: CLAD OFF!”
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union: “Grenfell exposed the scandal of building safety in the UK, after years of ignored warnings from residents and firefighters.
“There are huge numbers of people trapped in dangerous homes desperate for help, but the government has consistently looked the other way, instead offering empty promises and ineffective policies.
“Serious action is needed to prevent another Grenfell happening again. That means going after those who have built and profited off these dangerous homes and ensuring that residents aren’t made to foot the bill for vital remediation work.
“We are already over three years since the tragic night of 14 June 2017, fixing the building safety crisis cannot wait any longer."
Actor and comedian Kathy Burke: “I fully back this campaign. After the horror of Grenfell, which the whole world bore witness to, I find it absolutely terrifying and quite frankly inhumane that people are still living in extremely dangerous buildings without any financial help in making them safe for now or for the future.”
Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary at Unison: “The pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of the housing system and highlighted the importance of safe homes. Yet, three years on after Grenfell, thousands of families are still trapped in unsafe homes. This includes public service workers who are working hard to support communities and protect lives.
“The Grenfell Tower tragedy must not be forgotten, nor must justice for the families whose lives have been affected. Unison supports the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, which calls for robust measures to make homes safe so that no one is left behind.”