It has been six months since the Grenfell Tower Fire and the failures of the Prime Minster and her Government are clear. This is a community traumatised from the loss of their loved ones and their homes in what the Fire Brigades Union calls the worst fire in terms of fire deaths in living memory. The Police investigation announced it will be considering a number of charges including misconduct in public office. The case for bringing in the commissioners to run the council is all the more pressing. The Government should have brought in commissioners to run the failing council from the beginning. The recent Independent Grenfell Taskforce report criticised the council for its slow rehousing, lack of empathy and lack of emotional intelligence. The distrust from the community is cited in the report repeatedly.
This is not surprising given that six months on, four out of five of the households left homeless from the fire are without a home and around half of the families face Christmas in a hotel room or other emergency accommodation. Living like this for months on end will have exacerbated the trauma of former residents, unable to rebuild their lives. Theresa May’s promise in June to offer rehousing within three weeks lies in tatters. The council subsequently promised to rehouse all former residents of the Tower and Walk within 12 months of the fire. For many this is too little too late. This Government should have stepped in immediately, requisitioning some of the 2,000 plus empty properties in the area, almost three quarters of which are long term vacant. In the aftermath of the fire, Jeremy Corbyn called for the requisitioning of empty properties in such emergencies. A Labour Government would not have lost control, requisitioning empty properties in the immediate aftermath of the fire and passing legislation to speed this process up. The Government need to take affirmative action in the face of such failures and house the survivors immediately.
The families need justice. The Prime Minister should take responsibility using her powers under the Inquiries Act to deliver a broad inquiry panel. Instead, she has so far refused the demands of bereaved families and survivors who are having to petition her for such a panel and for families to have full access to evidence.
Jeremy Corbyn called for the inquiry to address the broader factors that led to the Grenfell fire, referencing the far reaching Stephen Lawrence inquiry, which had a broad panel, instilled community confidence, and reached the landmark conclusion of institutional racism. By failing to adopt its template, Theresa May broke another promise to the survivors that ‘no stone will be left unturned’ by this inquiry. It’s a wake-up call that the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced its own inquiry into whether the Government and the council have met their duty to protect their citizens before and after the fire.
Both the Government and the council have been missing in action when it comes to properly listening, and responding to the affected community. Health professionals predict that the mental health of up to 11,000 people could be affected by the fire. The horror and loss caused is unfathomable. The disregard that has followed is unacceptable.
This month I met with many survivors and bereaved families. I heard first-hand how their treatment has left them ‘fighting for the right to grieve’. They described how they cannot properly take care of themselves or their families due to constant battles with the council for adequate support, respect and dignity. Many said their mental health is, in their own words, deteriorating.
The impact of the fire and their subsequent treatment could create scars affecting generations. The response to the Grenfell fire has gone drastically wrong under the watch of the Prime Minister. It’s time for Theresa May to get a grip, own up to the failures and put this right without any more delays.
Diane Abbott is the shadow home secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington