UK Government Is Making People Pay For Grenfell Three Years Later
Today, June 14, marks three years since 72 people needlessly lost their lives, and 70 more were left injured from the Grenfell Tower fire.
The deadliest housing fire in the UK since World War II, the Grenfell fire prompted shockwaves, not just in North Kensington, but across Britain, as people watched on in horror while the flames engulfed the homes of up to 600 people.
It wasn’t long before the tragedy became a highly complex political debate over how a fire, caused by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer, could wreak devastation on such an enormous scale.
Investigations discovered the flames, which originated on the fourth floor, had been exacerbated by the building’s highly flammable cladding, causing the blaze to spread up the building at terrifying speed.
More than 250 firefighters battled for around 60 hours to tackle the fire, but by then so many lives had already been lost and many more homes were destroyed behind repair.
The fire served as a catalyst for an extensive investigation as to whether other buildings could be at risk of similar atrocities, and it was found that thousands of buildings bared Grenfell-style, highly flammable cladding.
Three years on, the progression has been futile, and around 2,000 buildings are reported to still be covered by the dangerous cladding, despite the government pledging to remove it all by this month. In May of this year, the government launched a £1 billion fund to allow building owners to remove and replace the flammable cladding on high rise buildings, though it’s predicted this will only cover a third of all buildings needing cladding replacement, the Independent reports.
However, the funding came with small print, and building owners who had already started to fix the dangerous cladding were dealt ‘a massive blow’ when they discovered they were ineligible to apply for the fund.
That’s because it excludes remediation work that begun before March 11 of this year, the day the government announced it as part of the spring budget.
One of the affected buildings includes luxury apartment block Skyline Central in Manchester, which boasts spacious one and two bedroom apartments, as well as a gymnasium, swimming pool and sauna for residents. However, the otherwise upmarket residence began to resemble a building site when work began to remove the highly flammable cladding in November of last year, costing leaseholders fees of between £15,000 and £25,000 per apartment – a sum that was required to be paid by January of this year, unless a five year payment plan was put in place.
A resident currently renting one of the apartments told UNILAD how the facilities, such as the pool and gym, are no longer accessible to those living in the building as a result of the building work going on, yet full rent is still being expected by landlords who are now forced to foot the expensive cladding bill.
‘We’ve paying over the odds for a building that is completely unsafe,’ they told UNILAD. ‘During the works, especially over winter, our heating bills were reaching more than £150 per month for a one bedroom flat.’
Some leaseholders have even been forced to move out of their apartments and rent them out just to cover the costs.
One anonymous resident said they knew of leaseholders contemplating suicide as a result of all the unexpected bills they’re suddenly faced with, proving that the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy is far from over.
Sadly, leaseholders at Skyline Central in Manchester will be not be in the minority either, as the parliamentary committee warns the $1 billion fund will only cover a third of the highest risk blocks in England.
In a new report, titled Cladding: Progress of Remediation, the committee says some residents are up against ‘life-changing bills’ for more than just the cladding.
‘If the government doesn’t provide additional funding, let us be clear: it means tens of thousands of residents sent massive bills for problems that aren’t their fault, and which, in many cases, will be a financial burden from which they will never recover,’ it warns.
‘It means thousands fewer affordable homes, as councils and housing associations are forced to divert funds to remediation projects; and worst of all, it will mean that some works are never carried out.’
The number of people stuck living in unsafe buildings is dangerously high, but the fallout from the cladding war poses serious risks not only to the physical health of leaseholders and residents, but to their mental health too.
The Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force conducted a survey that found 53% of owner-occupiers in tower blocks were hit with increased service charges after Grenfell.
An anonymous resident revealed their monthly charge had gone from £90 to £480, with another telling the organisation their management company had suggested a charge of £1,000 a month to cover the costs of cladding replacement.
So many lives have been destroyed by the use of this highly flammable, cheap cladding, and it’s imperative we push the government to honour its commitments and ensure no more lives are claimed either directly or indirectly from the cladding.
This year, survivors and loved ones of those affected by the fire will unite in a very different way, because of the current health crisis. Where supporters would usually gather to walk together in solidarity, Grenfell United is instead asking the nation to unite from the comfort of their own homes.
At 6.00pm an online remembrance event will take place, as bells ring to remember the 72 lives lost. Then, at 10.30pm, we’re asked to show we’re united for change and justice by illuminating our homes green by watching Go Green For Grenfell on YouTube.
We will remember them.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]