Updated: Apr 6, 2021
"Stay at home, they say, even if your homes are unsafe."
Housing is a basic need, but it is so vital that people feel safe and secure in their homes. It is, after all, the place that most of us have spent the last year confined in.
The burning injustice that so many people are facing due to years of neglect, corner-cutting and downright corruption; especially at a time where most of us would probably appreciate, now more than ever, the feeling of safety and functionality, is emblematic of this government’s inability to stand up and protect people who are at their most vulnerable.
The difficulties of being able to get onto the property ladder now cause a great deal of worry for so many young people. The average house price according to ONS figures (here) stands at £249,000 – an increase of £17,000 from the previous year – and yet the average salary is £29,800. Paired with the fact that the number of new homes needed in England is 345,000 per year, yet in 2019/20; the total housing stock in England increased by only around 244,000 homes (here).
Young people are forced to face a host of such unrealistic challenges to get onto the property ladder as it is. Since the pandemic began, of the 693,000 payroll jobs that have disappeared nearly two-thirds of the fall in the number of employees has been among the under-25s. (here) Young people are faced with tremendous barriers of getting onto the property ladder that no generation has experienced before.
Therefore, when the government voted down the Fire Safety Bill, it once again exposed their lack of any compassion and awareness of the reality of the housing crisis in this country. It is so difficult to buy a house, but when the young are faced with bills amounting to more than £78,000, that the Conservative MP Royston Smith tweeted on March 19th, highlights the absurdity of the cruel situation that many people are left in.
The amendment that was voted down would have legally protected leaseholders, from the costs of a problem they did not cause and were probably unaware of. It only causes more complexities when those who are living in such conditions, cannot sell due to the same fire safety faults (here). Instead, they are faced with extreme rises in their service charges to meet the increased insurance premiums due to the high risks that come with unsafe cladding and a lack of fire provisions.
Alternatively, they are having to pay for “waking watch” services, where there are permanent security guards whose job it is to alert residents in the case of a fire. They are then re-employed to keep an eye on buildings. (here) What was supposed to be a short term solution until these problems could be solved, has become a nearly four year scandal of legal robbery due to the neglect of successive governments.
Whilst it was Tory MPs who, following the whip, defeated the bid to save leaseholders from huge fire safety bills, ironically, this amendment was originally proposed by the Conservative backbench MP Stephen McPartland. He spoke in parliament to raise awareness that such high costs have led to families facing bankruptcy and homelessness.
The Labour MP Thangam Debonnaire, who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, exposed a long history of Conservative failure (here) and I want to dissect this further.
The Grenfell fire occurred on June 24th 2017 and the government had promised to remove all Grenfell-style cladding from buildings over 18 metres tall “by June 2020”, yet as of the end of February 2021, a quarter of these buildings (26%) still had ACM cladding (here). Nearly four years later, and after witnessing the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell Tower, there is still so much that needs to be done to ensure that this tragedy is never repeated.
The unfairness of the policy; that for any building under 18m in height with this unsuitable cladding, repairs will not be paid by the government is gravely concerning. The Fire Safety Bill tried to correct this – but it is still current government policy. The failure to provide either grants or loans for non-cladding fire risks, is also still government policy.
If other fire defects beyond cladding are not fixed (on buildings 18m or taller) due to leaseholders being unable to afford it, then they will not be able to access the funding to remove dangerous cladding. Outrageously, this is a government policy (here), that continues to leave vulnerable residents at risk of death from fire.
Stay at home, they say, even if your homes are unsafe.
Vicky Gill's interest in politics grew after participating in the UK branch of the European Youth Parliament in 2018.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.