Editor’s comment: Tower’s story proves there is plenty to learn
PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 June 2017
It’s a great thing, though it comes at a terrible cost, that social housing has at last been pushed up the national agenda.
For too long, the voices of those on council estates have not been heard loudly enough – by local authorities, by Whitehall, by their wealthier neighbours and by the press (though I’m proud of the work local papers do every week to amplify those voices).
Whether that neglect is a product of stretched resources or simply not caring varies from area to area.
There are plenty of people whose housing is urgently in need of attention, many of whom have been complaining – to their councillors, to us, to anyone who will listen – for years.
The lesson I thought we had learnt from Grenfell Tower is that people living in social housing need to be listened to, and their concerns acted upon – not “just in case”, but because they are intelligent, observant people who understand their own homes.
Which is why it is good news that Richard Watts was at Braithwaite House on Friday following the announcement that cladding there had failed safety tests – but less good that the petition handed to the council in 2014 and years of complaints by residents hadn’t resulted in any meaningful action.
Councils, even those with broadly good records of fighting for social housing, must ask themselves some tough questions about how seriously they take estate residents’ concerns.
Islington’s admission last year that it needed to stop blaming council tenants for the damp in their homes was a welcome step in the right direction.
But Braithwaite House – brought into the spotlight not through due process but by a horror show six miles away – proves there is still work to be done. None of us can be exempt from learning these lessons.