Will Grenfell really change attitudes towards social housing? The signs are not good

"It's three months since a fire tore through Grenfell Tower in North Kensington"
"It's three months since a fire tore through Grenfell Tower in North Kensington"
Natalie Bloomer By

It's three months since a fire tore through Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. As the country looked on in shock and dismay at the horror that unfolded that night, discussion quickly turned to the conditions which led to it and whether the tragedy would mark a change in attitudes towards social housing.

Journalists and politicians suddenly wanted to hear about life on council estates in austerity Britain. They wanted to understand why the tenants' concerns had been ignored by almost everyone. They wanted to know about 'regeneration' and the families forced out of London. It was time, they said, to push social housing up the political agenda.

That lasted a few weeks. Since then, apart from updates on the Grenfell situation itself, little has been heard about social housing more generally.

For years now, London housing activists have been fighting against the demolition of estates and battling to stop families being housed miles from their local area. A report by the Independent in 2015 showed that 50,000 households had been shipped out of London Boroughs over three years. 


Council and housing association tenants watched as luxury apartments have sprung up for the rich while their homes have felt less and less secure. From complaints about living conditions to people being forced away from their communities, their stories weren't hard to find, yet all too often, they weren't heard.

For a brief moment after Grenfell it seemed that people might start listening, that councils might have been shamed into rethinking their housing policies. That doesn't seem to be the case. Freedom of Information requests submitted by Politics.co.uk reveal that in the the four weeks immediately after the fire, hundreds of London families were moved away from their local area.

The responses received from councils so far (around half of London local authorities), show that between June 14th 2017 to July 14th 2017, 580 households were moved out of their borough (This figure does not include the survivors of Grenfell). That this happened at a time when the issue of social housing in the capital was under the spotlight doesn't suggest that councils have paused to reflect on their policies.

Just take this post from the blogger Mr Reasonable which reveals that Barnet council has been scouring Peterborough for properties to house its homeless in. That the city is more than 70 miles away doesn't seem to matter to the local authority. When asked about their actions, Barnet council said:

"The issue of homelessness is one that we are determined to tackle in Barnet. While we cannot always prevent this from happening, schemes such as this do play an important part in helping provide homes for those who cannot afford to live in London. Purchasing properties also represents better value for money, and allows us to offer better quality homes, rather than placing people in rented temporary accommodation. which is the alternative. The scheme has already helped provide homes for a number of households."

Then there's the Grenfell inquiry itself. Concerns have been raised by local campaign groups that the inquiry will not be looking at social housing policy or the broader social issues that led to the fire.  And just this week, lawyers filed an urgent application for a judicial review over what they say is a lack of diversity on the inquiry panel. In a statement BMELawyers4Grenfell said:

"Despite numerous and repeated concerns from the survivors and families of the deceased for an expansion of the inquiry's terms of reference and the diversification of its inquiry team...Theresa May has failed, so far, to address their concerns, acknowledge correspondence, or maintain the promise of proper public consultation on the inquiry's parameters."

Hardly sounds like a government that's listening, does it? As David Neita from BMElawyers4Grenfell, said on Sky News this morning:

"Here's the message it sends to the community: 'You warned us...we ignored you, we told you to shut up. Now you still have concerns and you are saying to us to look at the broader issues but we're still telling you to shut up'."

It's important that the specific causes of the Grenfell fire are understood and that anybody responsible for not ensuring the safety of the residents is brought to justice. But without acknowledging the role that attitudes towards social housing tenants played in this tragedy, little will change. It shouldn't be too much to ask for local people to be housed in their own community in safe and secure accommodation. And it shouldn't be too much to ask for people to start caring that they're not.

Natalie Bloomer is a journalist for Politics.co.uk. You can follow her on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners

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