A new investigation by HuffPost UK raises questions about why more money was not made available for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower prior to the fire, and why costs were kept so tight. We know that cheaper cladding was used to limit the price of the renovation work, and that this may have played a huge role in spreading the deadly fire.
There remain so many unanswered questions around the Grenfell disaster nearly two years on, and we are still waiting for official enquiries to produce findings. But it is clear that costs were cut and when residents raised concerns about how this would affect their homes they were not listened to.
Council budgets are complex and can be extremely difficult to balance in cash-strapped years, but we do have to ask why social housing can end up at the bottom of the pile, the area where corners are so frequently cut. Too often social housing seems to be an afterthought.
This unfortunately fits into a broader, society-wide view – that social renters are of a lesser status and less worthy of assistance or help. We’ve heard from social housing tenants who say they feel like they are treated as second class citizens, that their voices and their homes aren’t seen as important. And this is borne out in the money and time spent on their homes.
At Shelter we think social housing is the key to solving the housing crisis, we want to see 3.1 million more social homes in the next 20 years. But as part of this we need a rapid change of attitudes towards social housing at all levels of government. We need to see a recognition of social housing as a fundamental good for our society, not a mandatory box to tick as quickly and a cheaply as possible. Because a decent home is fundamental to a good life.
If we want social housing to achieve its potential, then it needs proper investment and attention. Its building and its maintenance can’t be paid for by scraped together budgets that encourage corner-cutting.
Alongside Grenfell United, we are calling for a new regulator for social housing solely focussed on the protection of tenants, so that they are not ignored on matters involving their homes and their safety.
From the way money is spent to the way tenants are respected, we need to an overhaul of attitudes towards social housing across the board. We need an understanding that social housing can be an incredible public service; enriching our communities and providing stable, affordable homes.
Greg Beales is director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter