THE AFTERMATH of the Grenfell fire exposes the government’s callous contempt for the lives and wellbeing of ordinary people. Jeremy Corbyn’s demand that the empty homes of the rich should be seized, in order to house residents within the borough, is absolutely right and widely supported.
The response of the Tory Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea council that they will seek to house some residents in other areas of London shows how they don’t care about compounding their criminal recklessness by splitting up the community and dumping the victims on someone else.
Faced with continued inaction and inappropriate decisions, including the threat to house some residents outside London altogether, Corbyn has repeated his call for the borough and the government to take the necessary measures to house residents in a borough home, while whole streets of houses are left empty by wealthy property speculators:
“Occupy it, compulsory purchase it, requisition it – there’s a lot of things you can do… my point was quite a simple one. In an emergency, you have to bring all assets to the table in order to deal with that crisis, and that’s what I think we should be doing in this case.”
Apart from the scandal of London’s thousands of homes deliberately left empty, while families and children languish on council waiting lists, the Grenfell fire has at last drawn the nation’s attention to the shocking neglect of safety standards across the private and socially rented sector.
Across the country, there are thousands of homes clad in the same flammable material that turned Grenfell into a deathtrap. This is because councils can’t, or won’t pay to update their housing stock with new like-for-like homes. Instead, they have opted for minor cosmetic and internal changes. By outsourcing the work to the lowest bidder, highly paid council chiefs abdicate responsibility for work, which cuts corners, breaks regulations and compromises the safety of residents.
This situation has to change. Not only do we need a serious house-building programme, but we also need a major programme of replacing or refurbishing unsafe housing to the highest possible safety standards. The only way to guarantee that is for this work to be carried out under the oversight of the residents’ and trade union movement.
We should call for neighbourhood action committees centred on tower block residents, drawing in other tenants’ groups and unions, most obviously local authority workers, teaching and medical staff, and firefighters, to immediately review safety in the high rises and demand action for the removal of hazardous materials, installation of appropriate fire prevention and suppression systems, guarantees of spending and accountability, and a review of local authority disaster response plans.