Everyone deserves a decent, genuinely affordable and safe place to call home. But nearly four years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster, hundreds of thousands of people across the country – including many here in Islington – remain trapped in homes with unsafe cladding and other features which make them vulnerable to fire. The scale of the problem meant that it was always going to take time to resolve, but after four years and seventeen promises from the Government, their failure and refusal to tackle the issue is beginning to look less like incompetence and more like neglect.
A Lords amendment to the Fire Safety Bill heard in the House of Commons last month was another opportunity for the Government to put their record of failure right – and another opportunity spurned. Simply put, the amendment would have prohibited the costs for repair work to rectify unsafe cladding being passed on to leaseholders, but despite a sizeable rebellion from the Government’s own benches, the amendment sadly fell.
Just what will it take for Whitehall to act? How long must people bear the cost of waking watches? How many thousands must they pay in remediation costs? How many people will face bankruptcy, the loss of their homes and profound damage to their mental health before something is done?
The people affected by this crisis are very often the homeowners least able to pay – shared owners, people with heavily leveraged mortgages, residents in cheaper flats constructed by developers who took advantage of slack building regulations. For a Government allegedly keen on home ownership, the support for the most hard-pressed homeowners is scant indeed.
Islington will always stand up for those affected by the cladding scandal. In addition to testing and removing any ACM cladding from our own estates, we continue to work with and press other landlords across the borough to do the right thing by their residents and make their homes safe. This means removing unsafe cladding of course, but also tackling other issues that potentially pose a fire risk, such as insulation. Islington’s Executive Member for Housing & Development, Cllr Diarmaid Ward, is meeting groups of leaseholders and assisting them in advocacy with their landlords.
But ultimately, this is a problem that only central Government has the capacity to fix. Only they have the legal tools at their disposal to bring unscrupulous landlords to task. Only they have the financial capacity to provide the funding for the scale of remediation needed. Only they can end our cladding scandal.