Grenfell was two years ago. So why are social tenants still waiting for their regulator?

Two years on. Image: Getty.

This week marks the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people, including 18 children, and irrevocably changed the lives of many more. But two years on we haven’t seen the changes needed to ensure that all social housing tenants can be guaranteed safety and security in their homes.  

We know Grenfell residents voiced concerns about fire safety and other maintenance problems time and time again well before disaster struck.  What’s more, it’s clear that Grenfell tenants are not alone in having concerns about their safety and well-being and not knowing to whom they can turn.   

Shelter have this week released figures showing over half (56 per cent) of all social renters in England have experienced a problem with their home in the last three years – including electrical hazards, gas leaks and faulty lifts. Among those with a problem, 10 per cent had to report the same problem more than 10 times. Almost three-quarters of social renters have never heard of the current regulator.  

The official inquiry into Grenfell is still ongoing, but we don’t need to wait for it to report to see the problems that exist in the regulation of social housing and the obvious solutions. As part of my work for Shelter’s Social Housing Commission, we backed the call for a tough, new consumer regulator. Social tenants need an organisation that focuses solely on their protection, by carrying out regular inspections and responding to the concerns of tenant groups before problems put them at risk.  

The existing Regulator of Social Housing mainly oversees the financial viability of social housing, including whether it’s value for money. This regulator provides no guarantees for the protection of tenants. The current system for enforcing standards in social housing plainly isn’t working. It’s that simple. Tinkering around the edges or “beefing up” what already exists just won’t be enough.    

There is no solution to the broken housing market which doesn’t include massive investment in social housing. It has the potential to provide secure, genuinely affordable homes to the millions of people who desperately need them. That is why the Commission, which involved people across the political spectrum, called for 3.1 million social homes to be built over the next 20 years.  

If we want to grow the numbers of people who call social housing their home, then we need to make sure these homes are well regulated, so that they’re decent and well-managed. We need to make sure tenants are listened to and protected no matter what. We need to ensure that they can feel safe in their homes and, if they don’t, then they can ask a tough regulator to take action on their behalf.  

Strengthening the regulation of consumer standards in social housing has been on the government’s agenda since the disaster, but we need to see more action and real change. A disaster of this scale demands real urgent change, as a clear signal that the government is serious about tenant health and safety. Implementing a new regulator will be no mean feat, but it’s a job that must be done.  

Grenfell was a tragic and appalling wake-up call about the value we place on social housing and the people that live in it. It’s time to act. 

Ed Miliband is the MP for Doncaster North, and was leader of the Labour party from 2010 to 2015.

This article first appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.


There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.

In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.