This week the Fire Safety Bill returned to the House of Commons after amendments were proposed by the House of Lords to protect leaseholders from bearing the costs of the consequences of the cladding scandal. Four years have passed since the Grenfell tragedy, and still, despite ministers avowals that leaseholders should not bear the costs of remedying fire safety defects caused by a failure of regulation and negligence in the building industry, we remain in a situation where leaseholders are being punished day after day and interim costs are not covered. On top of those costs, there is the cost of insurance. I have lost count of the times that I have pleaded with the Government to do something about insurance costs. In my constituency there have been insurance increases of 1,000% in affected buildings. Those are shocking figures, but our pleas are falling on deaf ears as far as this Tory Government are concerned.
We should never forget that at any moment, a further tragedy could—God forbid—occur. That is the terror that leaseholders in Brindley House in Birmingham Ladywood have had to face, because on 31 January this year there was a fire in a flat in their building. That is the risk and stress people are trying to cope with. One of my constituents recently said to me that he now thinks it will be less stressful to declare himself bankrupt and become homeless than to try to find a way to carry on as a leaseholder. At the very least, the Government could and should support the Lords amendment, or indicate a clear way through the crisis, so that we send a clear signal to all leaseholders that we will stand with them.
Last week, the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing visited the constituency and together we visited Brindley House which is currently undergoing interior remediation work. We saw the flat that had been gutted by fire and met with representatives from Claddag – a leaseholder group for disabled residents. I cannot imagine the fear that residents live with on a daily basis – the fire service said that the residents were only two minutes away from the fire engulfing the whole of their building. Two more minutes and the windows in that flat would have shattered, and the cladding wrapped around that building would have caught fire. When I heard that, my blood ran cold. To live like this is mental torture and not only are the Government not helping to alleviate this, they are actively contributing to its continuation. This cannot continue. We must find a solution now.
We were also joined at an outdoor roundtable on the issue of cladding by local MP and West Midlands Mayoral candidate, Liam Byrne. It was great to hear from Liam and to discuss some other aspects of his campaign. We know how damaging Covid has been to employment chances in Birmingham, coming as it did after years of punishing austerity from this Tory Government. He is focused on improving life chances for our young people, and youth unemployment will be a huge part of that – standing as it currently does at 20% in the region. He is also focused on positioning the West Midlands as the centre of a green revolution, becoming the first zero carbon region in the UK. The West Midlands has a history of innovation and industrial development – we have the legacy of the first industrial revolution alive in many of our buildings, and we now have the chance to build our own legacy that will contribute to a green economy, vital for our future.
On Wednesday, we marked International Workers’ Memorial Day when we remember all those who have lost their lives at work over the past year and vow to fight for the rights of workers everywhere. Covid has exposed huge injustices in our societies and our key workers and the lowest paid have been most likely to die. Our hospital staff, bus drivers and train drivers, our supermarket workers, and our care staff have given so much this year – they have sacrificed time with family, they have spent hours and hours in uncomfortable and painful personal protective equipment, they have faced abuse, and yet they have continued their work with the same dedication as before. We must rebuild a fairer society in which our workers are safe at work and are given a fair wage for the work that they contribute.
If there are issues you want to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.
Keep your social distance, stay safe and healthy – and please, keep washing your hands!