Millions of people are still stuck in deadly homes, almost four years since the Grenfell tower disaster. Despite the Tories’ Fire Safety Bill, the flammable cladding scandal is still far from being resolved.

The ongoing Grenfell enquiry has continued to expose the unscrupulous means by which landlords and housing developers have cut corners to maximise their profits – all at the expense of working-class lives.

It is believed that inadequate regulations and poor building practices over the last 40 years have rendered as many as 1.3 million (5%) of Britain’s residential dwellings unsafe. This is the harsh reality of a system based on the maximisation of profits.

Trapped

Those responsible for building these unsafe homes are refusing to pay to put them right. Of course, the shareholders of these massive companies can sleep well at night. Meanwhile, millions are forced to suffer.

No bank will grant a new mortgage on these properties, until they are made safe. But they will continue to insist that existing mortgages are repaid in full each month. This effectively condemns leaseholders of affected properties to live in death-traps.

To add insult to injury, the Tories this month voted to reject an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill. The amendment would have protected leaseholders trapped in unsafe buildings from being saddled with extortionate building repair costs of up to £100,000.

The government has promised only £5bn to help cover repair costs. But the total bill is expected to add up to £15bn. And as a result of the Tories’ policy, residents in towers 18m high and under are ineligible for any government funding.

As a result, leaseholders have been forced to take out massive loans to cover these repair costs; or else declare bankruptcy – losing their homes in the process.

Scandal

Only in February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “No leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they didn’t cause and are no fault of their own.” Quite right!

However, by rejecting the amendment to the Fire Safety Bill, it is clear that it is actually the landlords and housing developers who the Tories feel shouldn’t be forced to pay. This is an absolute scandal.

As far as the Tories are concerned, the profits of these parasites take priority over the lives of people now trapped in these dangerous tower blocks.

Indeed, the recent tower block fire at New Providence Wharf in London is a stark reminder that many buildings have still not been made safe by developers.

As a result of the fire, two people were hospitalised, and 40 more required medical attention. Given that the massive block still contained flammable cladding, it is incredible that more people were not injured or killed.

Cough-up

Only after this latest fire – and the threat of protests outside its sales suites – has Ballymore, the developer of the building, reluctantly agreed to cover the cost of repairs to leaseholders. But many other developers and freeholders are still refusing to budge.

Housing developers have claimed that the costs involved to replace cladding are too expensive. But since 2017, five of Britain’s largest housebuilders – all with their own cladding costs – have reported joint profits of £9bn.

Clearly, the money is there to replace cladding and make these tower blocks safe. But these funds remain in the bank accounts and pockets of the capitalists.

On top of this, four of the largest social landlords in Britain say their ability to fund new developments will be hamstrung by these repair costs. They are threatening to forfeit the building of 8,300 ‘affordable’ houses due to a £700m remediation bill.

This simply exposes the cold logic of the capitalist market. Tens of thousands of luxury flats are built every year – many used simply as repositories for the wealth of the world’s billionaires. At the same time, millions are forced into overcrowded and sub-standard homes, all because it’s not profitable to build what is needed.

For a socialist housing policy

Capitalism cannot provide everyone with safe, affordable, and good-quality housing. The profits of big developers and landlords will always come first ahead of anything else – including people’s lives.

The resources and land exist to provide a decent home for all. To fix the chronic housing crisis, the labour movement must demand:

  • Immediate repair and upgrade of thousands of unsafe homes, making property developers, big landlords, and management companies foot the bill.
  • Nationalisation of the land, large housing developers, construction firms, and banks – in order to carry out a crash programme of building a million council homes per year.
  • Nationalisation of the assets of the big landlords and management companies. Set rents at no more than five percent of net income.
  • Expropriate the thousands of empty homes currently owned by the super-rich, and allocate them on the basis of need.

Harry Jones


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