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.