The government’s recent pledge of an extra £3.5 billion to fix unsafe cladding doesn’t go nearly far enough. It is a sticking plaster for a much deeper problem. The funding being provided will offer little comfort to thousands of leaseholders trapped in unsafe properties, the vast majority of whom will remain liable for the repairs.
The latest funding only covers the cost of replacing cladding on high-rise buildings over 18 metres high, or six storeys. Buildings under this height – which seems to have been selected arbitrarily – have been excluded. There are more than 100,000 buildings in this category, compared to just 10,000 that are taller than 18 metres.
Families living in these smaller buildings will be expected to foot the bill. Many will be forced to take on debts that will stay with them for decades. This effectively renders their properties unsellable, preventing them from leaving these death traps.
In addition, this government funding covers none of the additional fire safety defects that also exist in most buildings with unsafe cladding. Nor does it cover the costs of the immediate steps that needed to be taken, such as employing around-the-clock fire warden patrols. These measures can cost each resident hundreds of pounds per month.
Mandatory building insurance costs have also skyrocketed, with yearly premiums having risen by an average of 500%.
In all, this adds up to tens of thousands of pounds of repair bills, which have fallen on the shoulders of leaseholders, through no fault of their own.
One survey found that two-thirds of leaseholders faced repair bills of over £30,000; and one-in-six are already considering declaring bankruptcy. Cost-cutting, profit-hungry housing developers, meanwhile, are free to continue lining their pockets.
Really, Robert? Your persistent kicks in the teeth to leaseholders is nothing short of disgraceful. Please spend your time fixing priority issues like preventing leaseholders from declaring bankruptcy, losing their flat, paying extortionate interest rates etc. @RobertJenrick https://t.co/MIjd4WFSuh— EOCS (@EOCS10) January 29, 2021
Furthermore, the glacial pace at which cladding is being replaced means that it will take until 2029 to complete.
The £3.5 billion on offer is an insulting fraction of the estimated £15 billion that is required to address the crisis properly. The assertion by Tory housing minister Robert Jenrick that this is a “very significant intervention” is a very cruel joke indeed. The contempt for those endangered by unsafe cladding could not be clearer.
What has changed?
This latest fiasco comes four years after the Grenfell disaster: the worst residential fire since the Second World War. The government’s toothless response then was scandalous. And the gross negligence of the cladding firm that “knew of the fire risk” – but cut corners to boost their profits – speaks volumes about the state of the housing industry itself.
Well over 600,000 people are estimated to be living in buildings covered in flammable cladding. The scale of this issue shows that this was not an accidental one-off tragedy, but a disaster waiting to happen.
The government’s tepid response, with an inquiry purposefully designed to let these cold-blooded murderers off the hook, shows that we cannot trust the Tories to provide any meaningful justice for the victims of the Grenfell fire. This latest announcement is nothing more than a failed publicity stunt.
Frederick Engels, in describing the social conditions of his time, in 1844, coined the term ‘social murder’: a state of affairs where society places people in unsafe conditions, leading to early death as an inevitable consequence
This is an apt term not only for Grenfell, but for the dire and dreadful situation of housing – or lack thereof – across Britain.
For a socialist housing solution!
This cladding crisis is a symptom of the housing crisis that the working class faces in Britain and around the world.
Housing under capitalism is not built for need, but to make a profit for landlords, speculators, and big developers. Indeed, because affordable housing isn’t a profitable enterprise, it simply isn’t built at all.
Similarly, parasitic landlords have no incentive to properly maintain their properties, when high demand means that they can easily get away with leaving houses and flats in a state of dilapidation and disrepair.
Left to the market, the existing stock of housing has become largely unaffordable – increasingly ending up in the hands of buy-to-let landlords; or lying empty as assets for speculation by investors.
Indeed, since the start of the pandemic, an estimated half-a-million renters are behind on their payments; and homelessness has exploded.
The pandemic has merely intensified these problems, which have accumulated in the past period.
Capitalism is totally incapable of providing a solution – either for the housing crisis, or for the urgent question of unsafe cladding. If it is not profitable to provide safe and affordable housing for all, then we must do away with the profit system, plain and simple.
To solve the housing crisis and fight the pandemic, the labour movement must demand:
- A permanent ban on evictions.
- Scrapping of all COVID and fire-safety-related housing debts.
- Expropriating empty properties used for speculation by investors, to be used instead to provide for the homeless and those currently living in unsafe housing.
- Bringing the properties and assets of the big landlords and management firms under public ownership and democratic control.
- Nationalising the major construction companies, property developers, and banks, in order to carry out a mass programme of social housing construction, free from dangerous cost-cutting, alongside the repair and upgrading of existing properties.