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Grenfell – where do we go from here?

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As we recommit today to the fight for justice for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, we will also remember that decent housing is a human right

Today the TUC Congress will debate a motion on last year’s Grenfell Tower fire.

This motion remembers the 72 people who were killed in the blaze, and pays tribute to the firefighters and emergency services who responded that night.

It also highlights how every aspect of fire safety in the building failed – including the walls, compartmentation, windows, doors, ventilation, fire lift and water supply.

More than a year on, the friends and families of those who died are still waiting for answers.

Broken promises

It was immediately striking was those most affected by the tragedy were mainly working-class black and minority ethnic families – people whose voices aren’t heard in inner city regeneration.

What added to the tragedy was the limited response from the local authority. There was no action plan to help those made homeless and traumatised by the disaster.

And when the prime minister visited, she didn’t even meet the people had lost loved ones and everything they owned.

Over a year on, the official response is still lacking.

Today, less than half of the families who were living in Grenfell Tower have been rehoused by the council - despite a promise that all would be in permanent homes before the first anniversary of the fire.

We need answers

The fire has also raised some fundamental issues about austerity, deregulation and privatisation.

As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said at the recent Fire Brigades Union conference, we still need to get to the bottom of why this entirely preventable disaster happened.

That’s why the public enquiry must be the fullest, widest and deepest investigation possible - not a whitewash or an establishment stich-up.

Grenfell shows what happens when poor and immigrant communities are neglected and when corners are cut in the name of cost-saving.

And it raises questions about the value placed on state housing in today’s Britain.

Decent housing is a human right

The 1941 Beveridge Report identified the evils of squalor and want – evils that were endemic due to slum landlords and politicians washing their hands of the housing needs of working class people.

A renewed push for council housing was the result.

As I was growing up, decent housing was everybody’s right. But the Thatcherite obsession with home ownership has seen the clock turned back.

We now have a government that is not interested in affordable housing to rent, but believes people should either own their home or rent privately at market rates.

Ministers think that only those they deem to be deserving should even be considered for social housing, and that this should be offered on a time-limited basis.

The result has been the privatisation and residualisation of a state system that once lifted millions of working class people out of squalid slums.

And the concerns of tenants are ignored while their housing decays.

Time for action

Nowadays housing is about money rather than homes – and those who do not own property simply don’t count.

Tens of thousands of people are currently living or working in high-rise buildings, and they need action to protect them now.

The £400 million the Government committed for cladding removal from social housing was a step forward, but if we are to ensure that our homes are safe we need simple, clear regulations and strong enforcement.

So as we recommit today to the fight for justice for the 72 who perished at Grenfell, for the injured and the bereaved, we will also remember that decent housing is a human right.

And we won’t rest until the government accepts that responsibility and acts on it.

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