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Grenfell victims still sidelined

PROMISES of rehousing made to survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster by Tory politicians at national and local level have been revealed as having the consistency of pie crust.

It beggars belief that, six months on, 150 Grenfell families remain in hotels or other short-term accommodation after Theresa May pledged then that everyone would be rehoused within three weeks.

There is no reason why that pledge could not have been honoured within, or close to, that timeframe.

Kensington & Chelsea council is among a handful of the richest in Britain, which could afford council tax refunds to wealthy residents while other local authorities have suffered huge central funding reductions.

The council ought to have reacted more speedily to allocate permanent accommodation to survivors, but it has dragged its feet.

Council leader Elizabeth Campbell claims to have “an army of people out there working 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” but she had to acknowledge that flat owners have pulled out of dealings with the council, citing inordinate delays, and sold their property elsewhere.

That experience does not speak of the urgency required to enable Grenfell survivors to move on to the next stage of their lives.

Campbell made sympathetic and understanding noises about bereaved families asking council representatives to stay away from Thursday’s national memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Frankly speaking, her sympathy and understanding are irrelevant in this situation.

Far more important will be her council’s accelerated action, belated as it already is, to meet the crucial needs of people who have become used, but not reconciled, to having their interests ignored or patronised.

Jeremy Corbyn, who was alone among national political leaders in being welcomed by survivors in the immediate aftermath of the inferno, is right to drive home the still unlearned lessons of the tragedy.

Failure to treat the rehousing programme as an urgent priority is one lesson, but possibly more important is government failure to tackle other potential Grenfells across the country.

Corbyn’s colleague and Labour shadow housing minister John Healey has posed a question that must be answered — why, six months after Grenfell, have only a small number of 4,000 tower blocks been scrutinised for potential safety failings?

The inescapable conclusion to be drawn is that, where people from certain social strata are involved, they can be fobbed off with delays and excuses.

A prime example of patronising Establishment attitudes towards poor working-class people, especially from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, has been Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s official inquiry into the fire.

He has surrounded himself with a variety of expert advisers and witnesses but has frustrated survivors who feel sidelined by the inquiry.

There can be no acceptable reason why a bereaved families’ representative should not be appointed to sit on the inquiry panel to ensure that, amid the factual evidence placed before it, the residents’ suffering and loss are not skated over.

Survivors are not alone in suspecting that they are being shunted to one side, as the decision by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to convene its own inquiry illustrates.

Public disquiet is so widespread over perceptions that national and local authorities have failed bereaved families and survivors that the prompt decision by EHRC can only be helpful in either confirming shortcomings or exposing why popular conceptions are misplaced.

Finding out the truth is far more important than whether the official inquiry chairman or other notables feel miffed.

 

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