Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry

Part of Humanitarian Situation in Mosul – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 12th July 2017.

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Photo of Emma Dent Coad Emma Dent Coad Labour, Kensington 4:03 pm, 12th July 2017

They have been offered one choice, so they have had no choice. It is that choice or the hotel. Normally, when someone is offered temporary accommodation, they have a choice of three or four places, and after that, they may be threatened with voluntary homelessness. On this occasion, they have been offered one each, so they have had no choice at all. All that happened this week, and I have direct communication with the people it happened to. Still no one is accountable.

More specifically on housing, can we please acknowledge that this process continues for many to be chaotic, daily? Why is a tenant management organisation that is under criminal investigation still in control of housing? The updates I get from survivors, members of voluntary groups and others directly involved in this project talk about a lack of cultural awareness among some social workers, and a lack of continuity of care. The issue of whether or not there is an amnesty where there are concerns about someone’s immigration status continues. I know what the situation is, but those involved certainly do not, as the communication is very poor.

Issues relating to the walks or finger blocks continue. Are these things safe? What about the fire exits? The issues about communication from the TMO, the confusion about the payment of rent, and the threatened eviction of people who have not paid may have been dealt with, but the legacy is still there. Does everyone know where they stand? It seems not. Some near neighbours in blocks are too scared to return, saying that they hear ghosts and screaming. As far as we can ascertain, survivors are given one choice of accommodation. Why only one? There should be a choice. One person turned down a flat with mould. Another turned down a flat scheduled for demolition. Is there no centralised list of decent available housing? There seems to be no co-ordination here. Somebody this week had offered three impeccably refurbished flats to the council, only to be told that everyone had been housed in high-quality homes, which we know is not true.

Frankly, this continuing disaster and lack of care and respect for survivors is unacceptable. It comes from a culture at Kensington and Chelsea Council that needs to be addressed—soon. The longer this goes on, the worse it is for survivors. Will the Government continue to let the council fail its survivors in so many ways? This is Potent Whisper’s Grenfell Britain.

Let me turn briefly to mental health. Many survivors are still in shock and cannot begin to recover until they can bury their loved ones. Many will have to wait a very long time for that. Many are fragile, and I have huge concerns for their mental health. I know people who are still in shock and not on any path to recovery. One was on the phone to her terrified best friend for over an hour, debating whether she should stay in the flat or try to leave. Then the phone went dead. The surviving friend calls and texts her friend every day, even though she knows that she is dead. Who is looking after her?

I am particularly concerned about those who may have mental health crises. There has already been one threatened suicide and one attempted suicide, and there may be more. We can be sure that many affected people will need urgent and intensive treatment at some point.

For many years, the minority party councillors in Kensington and Chelsea have been asking for an increase in the number of places of safety for people suffering crises. This followed a series of incidents in which people with mental health issues in sheltered housing had had crises and then ended up in a police cell overnight because there was nowhere else for them to go. Meanwhile, we hear that an entire ward at a London hospital is locked because there is not enough cash to keep it open. Patients are offloaded to private mental healthcare facilities at a cost of nearly £600 a day. Where is the logic in that, and who should be held accountable for it?

After four weeks, we are still witnessing a process that is reactive, not proactive. The council and the Government are one step behind. We need a sensible plan in place. We need to review that closed ward and allocate funds to staff it. Please can we have a proper strategic plan for housing and all the other issues? We are just reacting daily.

A lot of people and groups are beginning to plan for the future. Many come to me—many are well-meaning—and want me to tell them where they went wrong and how they can improve their approach or better serve their people. With my background in architecture and planning, I have lots of ideas, some of which I have been working on for years, but at a time when people feel so utterly betrayed and distrustful, I cannot possibly support any kind of top-down, outside intervention, however expert or well-meaning it is. At any time, but particularly at a time like this, good planning starts with the people whose lives will be changed by it. It starts with a blank sheet of paper, and should end in improving the lives of the people who live in the area, but often that does not happen. The estate development proposed by the council—and developments proposed by many councils of all political hues—is not for the benefit of existing tenants. We need a completely fresh approach. Overarching this is a genuine, often misplaced and sometimes insulting attitude that those in positions of power and influence know better than the “little people”, as some see them. I have never believed that, and perhaps that is why I was elected.

Members will have heard about our volunteer groups and organisations; they did not spring up from nowhere. They have always been there—always unappreciated and undervalued. They are amazing and self-organising. We need to learn lessons from them and bring them into the future.

What was so cruelly taken from our Grenfell people must be returned. They do not wish to be penalised financially forever for an act that they were not responsible for. They want their dignity back, and somewhere decent to mend and recover. We cannot return their deceased to life, but their families do want to bury something. They want the choice of where to bury their dead, and that has not always been offered.

This horrific event must be a game-changer. We need a thorough review of approaches to estate development and of the funding of social housing. We need to listen to the people affected and their warnings, and act on their concerns and priorities with the transparency and honesty that has so clearly been missing. Grenfell people do not want our pity or charity. They want their dues, they want justice, and they want change. Our poets and artists will continue to shame us all with their insight and intelligence until we recognise that, and accept their collaboration on the fundamental change that is so desperately needed.