Grenfell’s forgotten victims

Submitted by Matthew on 12 July, 2017 - 10:37 Author: Gemma Short and Hugh Daniels

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire who were in the UK illegally have been told they will only get 12 months limited leave to remain by the Home Office. In a year’s time people could be forcibly deported. This, despite an appeal from the police just two weeks ago for people to come forward with information about those who were living in the tower, and for survivors to come forward to receive support, where the police claimed that immigration status would not be a problem.

It is now very likely that people with concerns over their immigration status will not come forward. Labour Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott called the move ″grotesque″, and said, ″Some victims have literally lost everything in this horrific tragedy: all their possessions, homes and loved ones... To access all the support they need without fear of deportation, any survivors concerned about their status must be given indefinite leave to remain. Otherwise, they may just disappear off the grid.”

After initially staying in position, and hiding from the public, council leader Nick Pagent-Brown, deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen and head of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation Robert Black have now resigned. The government has confirmed ″outside experts″ will be brought in to manage the council′s housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance services. But unaccountable government commissioners are not the answer to a crisis which was born out of unaccountable local government.

Discontent with the proposed public inquiry, particularly with the appointment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is growing. Labour′s Shadow Housing Minister John Healey has proposed that an advisory panel that includes survivors and relatives be set up. After the inquiry was set up, Amand Fernandez, a resident of Lancaster West estate, which is close to Grenfell Tower, said: “Prime Minister Theresa May did not even respond to our email requesting direct involvement on the establishment of the public inquiry. She has already appointed a judge who has told us the inquiry will be very narrow. She promised to consult us on this, but has completely gone back on that promise. We are deeply disappointed”.

It has emerged that even before the fire Kensington and Chelsea Council had one of the worst records on housing people in need. The council has placed 1,668 homeless households in temporary housing outside the area, and 902 had been in out-of-borough temporary housing for more at least a year.

Understandably, questions are being raised over whether survivors of the fire will be housed locally. The government had promised that all survivors would be offered temporary housing by Wednesday 5 July, but only 14 offers have been accepted by families, 19 haven′t received an offer at all, and many of the rest are holding out for offers of permanent homes. Reports have surfaced of residents of the Lancaster West estate still being charged rent, despite still being unable to return to their homes because they have been left uninhabitable, with no gas or water, since the fire. The Grenfell Action Group have called the residents of the Lancaster West estate ″the forgotten victims″.

Stop this social cleansing!

Last Monday, 3 July, an estimated 1,500 people marched on Haringey Civic Centre to protest against the largest sell-off of local council property in UK history. The cabinet of Haringey council voted to establish the “Haringey Development Vehicle” (HDV). The ″HDV″ will be run by a board of just six people. Three from the council — which could be unelected council officers not councillors — and three representing Lendlease, a multinational construction company and union blacklister, who will provide the capital.

Over the coming years, a series of further votes will be tabled to transfer land and property out of public ownership and into the HDV, away from democratic control. The HDV is set to include £2 billion of public assets, including social housing (much will be demolished), a school (which will be turned into an academy) and an Asian community centre (which will be destroyed with no plan for rehousing). There is no offer of increased social housing.

Haringey MPs David Lammy and Catherine West (both Labour) had written to the council urging them to halt the process. Inside the chamber, Labour councillor Alan Strickland, who heads this project for the council, has admitted that there may be “poor doors” — separate entrances for private and council tenants. Removed tenants will get limited options on other housing before they must take what they are given or be made homeless.

The leader of the council, Claire Kober, has claimed that all tenants have a right of return, but this is not in the council documents which have been voted on. While the cabinet were inside, protestors were banging on windows, shouting “no social cleansing” and clanging pots and pans. Traffic was halted down one side of Wood Green High Street and police got extremely jittery as protestors flooded into unexpected areas behind the council building. At a fundraiser afterwards, one of the organisers argued that the HDV was born from the 2011 Tottenham riots. The council came under pressure to improve the area and saw that the easiest and most effective option would be to change the people.

Despite the vote, the campaign continues. A legal challenge has been launched and there must be further votes before any land is transferred. The HDV needs to be a beacon for resistance across London and beyond. It is the largest of its kind, but otherwise far from unique. Across the country we must remove Blairite councillors and create a movement that will fight for workers’ cities.