Housing is at the centre of today’s political conversation. The electorate is acutely aware of the housing crisis, and is demanding sincere policies to solve it. At the Conservative Party Conference this week, Michael Gove talked about raising living standards and making homes a safe and decent place to live in this country. Gove has been received as a pragmatic replacement for Robert Jenrick in the brand new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The appointment highlighted the importance of housing to the Government’s “levelling up” agenda.
Despite the shocking scenes from the Grenfell Tower fire four years ago, however, little has changed. The lack of action on removing cladding has frustrated campaigners and residents who still have to live in tower blocks with cladding. Having grown up in one myself, I know all too well the feeling that it could have been me or a loved one. Which is why the apparent decision to knock down Grenfell Tower is concerning. It’s worrying that only a limited number of families were consulted before making that decision.
To most people, Grenfell may be a reminder of the social inequalities we face but to the relatives of the victims, it means much more. It is a reminder of the loved ones they have lost. Grenfell should stay on its feet until it is no longer safe to have it standing. When that time comes, it should be replaced by a memorial to the victims. Such a memorial should pay respect to those who lost their lives by inspiring and shocking those who view it in equal measure. Any attempt to sanitise a physical tribute should be resisted.
Second, we need to collectively mark the anniversary of Grenfell in a way that animates the conversation about what people deserve from their homes. We should explore, as we reflect on that recurring date, why it’s acceptable to have so many families living in accommodation that meets the bare minimum for safety and quality (or even lower than that).
We know that educational attainment is impacted by housing standards. If the government wants to truly ‘level up’ the country, it needs to make the quality of housing a priority. Finally, businesses also have a role to play. Over the past few years, business has accelerated its thinking on the role it can play in society.
Earlier this year, Barratt Developments became the first property developer to back a levy to fund cladding removal. This should provide the momentum for the sector to work with campaigns such as the excellent, #endourcladdingscandal led by Paul Afshar.
Companies playing a proactive role in tackling poor housing are also on the way to achieving good business outcomes.
Our Purpose Pulse found that nearly two thirds (67%) of Millennials and Gen Z (16-40 year old’s) in the UK believe that it is important for businesses to join forces to achieve social change, to build trust and support amongst themselves.
Longer term, building trust among young people is good for attracting talent and improving corporate reputation.
The Grenfell fire is a constant reminder of the social inequality persisting in the UK. The building may or may not be demolished soon but we should never forget what that tragedy says about our society today. It will always jog our memory, and hopefully spur us on to do much more in the future.