The government has failed to meet a target to remove dangerous cladding from all tower blocks by this month – as thousands remain exposed to the material blamed for the rapid spread of the Grenfell fire.
Official figures published on Thursday show that 300 high-rise residential and publicly-owned buildings with the same aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding that was wrapped around the west London block are still to be fully remediated. Last year, the government said that all flammable ACM cladding would be removed by June 2020.
But the figure only scratches the surface. It is estimated around 1,700 more buildings have some other form of dangerous cladding, such as timber or high pressure laminate.
The Labour Party said the glacial pace of removal and remediation “shames ministers” and the Fire Brigades Union labelled the latest update “an utter disgrace”. It comes just three days before the third anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, which caused 72 deaths.
I have had months of anxious and broken sleep, felt deep regret at having bought this place and have suicidal thoughts at least twice a week. I feel like I have been robbed.Anonymous person living in cladding-covered building
The government has committed £1.6bn to carry out work on all affected buildings because of the stalemate between the state, building owners and developers over who should pay for remediation. But the long delays are causing misery for people living in tens of thousands of homes affected by the scandal.
Last month, HuffPost UK reported that the government cash does not cover the temporary fire safety measures those in dangerous buildings have been forced to implement just to stay in their homes.
The most common measure is 24-hour fire wardens, or round-the-clock waking watches. Freedom of Information requests showed at least 380 blocks of flats have watches in place, costing some people as much as £840 a month. HuffPost UK also revealed how thousands are facing “astronomical” hikes to insurance premiums.
On Thursday, a survey carried out by the campaigning UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG) revealed dozens of leaseholders living in buildings with dangerous cladding have contemplated suicide.
The survey, based on the responses of 550 residents across 143 private buildings, indicated cladding issues have “hugely affected” the mental health of nearly eight in 10 respondents.
Some 14.5% reported suicidal feelings while 8% said they had felt a desire to self-harm.
More than a quarter (26.9%) said they had received a new diagnosis of depression or anxiety, while 46% have sought or are planning to seek medical help with mental health issues, it added.
Nearly one-third said they had turned to alcohol to help cope with stress.
One anonymous respondent said: “I have had months of anxious and broken sleep, felt deep regret at having bought this place and have suicidal thoughts at least twice a week. I feel like I have been robbed.”
The survey of residents, covering blocks across 46 local authority areas in England, Wales and Scotland, also found one in 10 leaseholders had taken out a loan from a bank or family members to cover costs, and more than a quarter said they cannot start a family because of money issues.
UKCAG member William Martin, who lives in an affected building in Sheffield, said: “Respondents speak of their thoughts of suicide, of their constant insomnia and of their personal battles with mental health.
“Each life is on hold, and given the sheer number of unsafe buildings and current pace of remediation, this ‘hidden’ mental health crisis is only set to get worse.
“Covid-19 has delayed remediation works further, has seen residents being asked to stay home in unsafe buildings and at time of financial difficulty for all has seen leaseholders continue to receive demands for extortionate sums of money to fix a problem they did not create.”
Leaseholders want government funds to cover all cladding removal and safety remediation work on buildings, regardless of height or speed of application to the fund.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The government have tried to spin their way out of dealing with this crisis, but their record speaks for itself.
“The glacial pace of cladding removal continues, and the government still has no idea how many homes are at risk from other flammable materials.
“We cannot see another year of this atrocious inaction.”
Mike Amesbury, Labour’s shadow housing minister, said: “Today should have marked the end of a three-year nightmare for residents across the country.
“Instead, they will go to sleep tonight in unsafe buildings due to government inaction.
“Ministers should now live up to the promises made last year, and take enforcement action against building owners who are failing to do this work.”
In July 2019, then-housing secretary James Brokenshire set a deadline of June 2020 for all tower blocks covered in Grenfell-style cladding to have it removed and replaced. He warned building owners to “expect enforcement action” if action wasn’t taken.
A Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “Residents’ safety remains our priority. We are bringing forward the biggest change in building safety in a generation backed by our unprecedented £1.6bn fund to ensure unsafe cladding is removed swiftly from high-rise buildings.
“We are clear that in order to ensure the safety of residents during the coronavirus pandemic, work to remove these unsafe materials must continue where it can be done safely.
“We continue to see progress, with remediation complete or ACM cladding removed on 46% of buildings identified as unlikely to meet building regulations however, it is clear there is much more still to be done.
“We have secured pledges from 26 local leaders and five metro mayors to ensure this vital remediation work continues, where it is safe to do so.”