Government finally promises to fund re-cladding in social housing! A good beginning . . .

Eleven months after promising to “keep our people safe”, the government has announced that they will “fully fund” replacement of cladding in social housing tower blocks.  They estimate the cost at around £400 million.  This is a huge achievement for those who have been pressing hard for this money, including Grenfell survivors, FPA and the many organisations and MPs supporting the demands of our SCIN campaign (Safe Cladding and Insulation Now!), and Local Authorities whose tower blocks are affected.   But it’s nowhere near enough, and there are many unanswered questions, including, incredibly: will the new cladding also be flammable?

Below is the letter we sent to the Secretary of State when Theresa May announced the new money.  We will be writing to him again as soon as he releases, as promised, the details of the planned funding.  We will be inviting supporters to join us in signing this new letter, to be delivered later this year.  Protection for tenants and leaseholders, from fire and from cold is essential and is a minimum that all are entitled to expect.  And there must be no further delays!  The time for re-cladding is now.

17th May Mini-Guide Launch at Crossroads Women's Centre

THURSDAY 17 MAY sees the launch of the second edition of FPA’s popular  “Mini-Guide” to fuel customers’ rights in dealing with predatory energy suppliers.  Now updated and expanded to include short sections on district heating and on landlords, the Mini-Guide is easy to read and down to earth, and it tells you what works  — not what “should” happen. 

Please join us to pick up your free copy, consider who you know that might find it useful, and hear from experts on the value of good information:

  • Paul Nicolson, redoubtable defender of rights, from Taxpayers Against Poverty
  • Eliza Takaedza, member of the All African Women’s Group, who recently won a new boiler
  • Paula Peters from DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts)
  • Ellen Lebethe, from Lambeth Pensioners Action Group (LAMPAG) and co-chair of National Pensioners Convention (NPC)

There is no need to register but please try to let us know if you can make it.  

 

7 – 9 pm

Thursday 17 May

Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews London NW5 2DX (off Caversham Road)

Fully wheelchair accessible.

Tea and cakes.

 

This event will replace FPA’s regular monthly meeting but there will be time as well to discuss what is happening in our new post-Grenfell “SCIN” campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now.  SCIN is fighting for the people in high-rise blocks who’ve been left with flammable cladding, and for the others, who’ve had cladding removed, and will be freezing again next winter.  There is growing support, and all sorts of possibilities! 

 
 

'When the facade comes off' – the wider implications of the cladding and insulation crisis

Besides killing 71 people and shattering many more lives, the Grenfell fire has shone a light into deep fault lines in UK housing, politics, and social relationships, all of them disaster areas that are set to cause many more deaths.  In memory of those who have died, the onus is on all of us to seize this moment.
On the front line are the Grenfell survivors, many still crammed into hotel rooms and fighting for permanent homes, the right to stay in Britain, or support to recover from devastating grief and loss.  Right behind them are the residents of other tower blocks.  People who’ve been told they must go to bed each night in a flammable building unless and until they can themselves find the money to replace cladding.  And people who have had the cladding and insulation stripped off their buildings, for safety, but who now find their homes exposed to freezing winds, and damp, for months, or even years.
Grenfell has exposed:

  •  Social housing where residents – the experts on their buildings and communities – cannot make themselves heard.
  • A construction industry driven by perverse incentives and conflicts of interest, without effective monitoring, inspection, or clear lines of accountability.
  • Regulations compromised by commercial interests including the plastics industry (searching for markets for a tide of petrochemicals fracked in the USA).
  • Privatised and ineffective inspection of building processes and materials.
  • Local government removed from the control of local people.
  • Central government which can promise to “keep our people safe” and then continue to claw back the money on which safety depends.
  • Ill equipped, ill funded fire services and a shortage of fire experts.
  • Run-down skills and capacity in construction, manufacturing, and research.
  • Housing standards, duties of care, and laws on wilful neglect that can be breached with impunity, in a crisis like the present one, and even on a routine basis, day to day.
  • Leasehold contracts that leave residents without  effective protection from their landlords
  • A system which ignores the views of residents, those who know best what is happening in their own buildings/areas.
  • Regeneration that breaks up the communities on which rest people’s health and happiness
  • Leasehold contracts that leave residents without effective protection from their landlords
  •  Hundreds of thousands of flats sitting empty, many bought up as investments for the portfolios of billionaires, while people sleep on the streets outside, and Grenfell families, like others made homeless, are crammed into a hotel room.
  • A system of financial auditing – the critical safety net against corruption and corner-cutting — where the auditors are financially linked to the businesses they are inspecting.

Small wonder that as cladding comes down from new or refurbished buildings, local authorities are finding that the glossy exterior has been concealing missing fire-breaks and insulation, faulty structural fixings, holes in walls and floors, and inferior materials – the basics are not there.
Critically, they have found insulation missing – a scandal FPA are very familiar with, as residents on new build housing estates contact us, unable to heat their homes.  Their homes have high EPC ratings – deemed good on “energy performance”, but thermal imaging shows where contractors have simply saved money by leaving insulation out.  UK homes – for this reason and because little is being done to tackle draughty, damp, and hard to heat older housing – are among the coldest in Europe.  Landlords’ legal obligations, such as they are, are not enforced, and the central government funding, which paid for health and safety officers, has been taken back by Whitehall.  Official standards for insulation, won over decades of pressure by energy and fuel poverty lobbyists, are still there, on paper, but are missing on the walls.
As the changing climate removes the blanket of Jet Stream protection which has until now kept the UK climate temperate, the first people to pay will be those on low incomes living in poorly insulated housing.  Many will pay with their lives.  Every winter thousands of people die in this rich country, because they cannot heat their homes.  Like fire, cold kills.
The Grenfell Inquiry, the Hackitt Review, all the meetings, all the demonstrations, cannot be allowed to lead to business as usual.  The present lifting of the cover on “the way things are done” gives us all  a moment of power.
At our meeting “Dying from Fire, Dying from Cold”, Ishmael Francis-Murray from the Grenfell community said, “ If we don’t get change through this, we never will. . .  Right now we have a chance.”
Change must begin with justice and security for Grenfell survivors – and with warm, safe homes for all whose buildings have been immediately affected by this disaster.  It must then reach further.

Freezing cold in rural Northumberland

There is little recognition of what is happening to people who are not on the gas grid and cannot afford to heat their homes. FPA have received several emails from a father of two children Northumberland, who has agreed for us to share his story. He lives in a stone farm cottage high up in the hills, now covered in snow.
“The warm home payment scheme doesn’t cover oil and many rural homes like ours are 100% oil heating and water heating
Unfortunately we are in the teeth of this storm, here, we are effectively in the ‘red warning zone’ as we are only 15 miles from the border and the red zone ends at the border – it’s -8 with a wind chill of -12 and it’s blowing a gale, with the blizzard you can’t see 10 feet outside.
We’re warm enough but caning through our oil. I know some people have run out and the tankers can’t get through. We’ve used about a week’s supply in a 2 days because we are all in the house, the kids schools are closed and have been for most of the week, We have enough coal and wood to last until tomorrow morning, then I am going to have to head into the woods with the axe. There’s no way the coal lorry can get up the hill.
Many of us here by now had run down their fuel stocks – we had our last open fire around the 3rd March last year and didn’t light it again until the end of September because of this coal is getting tricky to find, if you can get to the filling station, and of course, it costs 4 times what the coal merchant charges and that for poor quality coal.”
If you or somebody you know is in a similar situation please contact us at [email protected] . We will do all we can to provide advice and campaign on your issues.
For more information about the cost of fuel in rural areas and the lack of insulation in old rural buildings, see more from Richard here.