Blog: Grenfell must not be allowed to be another example of justice denied

This Sunday marks three years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Three years since the deaths of 72 innocent people in the most horrific circumstances, in their own homes. Three years since the worst residential fire since the Second World War.

The lives lost at Grenfell exposed government failings on housing, investment, safety standards, deregulation and building control. These were avoidable deaths, but the choices that could have saved lives weren’t made. And they still aren’t being made today. 23,000 households are still living in unsafe residential tower blocks – in both the social and private rented sectors. Clad in unsafe flammable cladding, that’s tens of thousands of families fearing for their lives three years on.

It is impossible, even during a global pandemic – to stay safe at home, when your home is unsafe.

UNISON has consistently called for safe homes for residents and for the government to provide adequate funding to remove all flammable materials to ensure the safety of residents, as set out in our housing manifesto. Yet three years on, these families, their loved ones and the community that surrounds Grenfell are still waiting.

The government’s partial ban on flammable cladding isn’t enough – and action is far too slow. Lives are being put at risk. And as the Grenfell Tower residents were once ignored when they raised concerns about fire safety, now the calls of thousands more families are being ignored too.

UNISON stands with the Grenfell survivors, the families of those who lost their lives and every single person who is forced to live in unsafe housing. Our members are working hard to provide support and to re-house survivors – a task that remains a priority but which is hindered by failed Tory housing policies which continue to denigrate and decimate social housing.

And we call for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to give the answers this community – and our whole country – needs. The full details of what happened. The cause of the fire that cost so many people their lives. And for those responsible for failures in the building safety regulatory system- and the austerity regime that exacerbated those failings – to be held accountable.

The Government has pledged to reform the building safety regulatory system, and give residents a much stronger voice in an improved system of fire safety. They need to make that a reality, not an idle promise. And they must go further, by introducing a universal ban on the use of combustible materials on residential blocks and committing more funds to pay for the removal of all dangerous flammable materials and cladding from residential blocks to make them safe, so that a further tragedy is prevented.

They must put an end to deregulation and privatisation in the building safety system, by reversing the outsourcing of health and safety and building control services, commit more resources to fire and rescue services and local authority building control services, which have been under-funded for many years.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy must not be forgotten, nor must justice for those who lost their lives, their loved ones or their homes be delayed any further. The 72 people were not a random sample of Londoners. They were more likely to be migrant workers. They were more likely to be low-paid. They were disproportionately Black. All of which reflects those who are too often denied justice.

Grenfell must not be allowed to be another example of justice denied.

UNISON members have decided learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower tragedy is a priority and have set out a plan to make public and private housing safe and secure.