Firefighters have warned that we risk “sleepwalking into another catastrophic loss of life” two years after the fire at Grenfell Tower.
Seventy-two people died after flames engulfed the west London tower block in the early hours of 14 June 2017 in the worst fire Britain had seen for decades.
The tragedy became a focal point for people worried about the safety of social housing and there are still 328 high-rise residential public buildings yet to see the replacement of cladding similar to the unsafe type that helped spread the fire at Grenfell.
The Fire Brigades Union said that, along with safety standards for similar towers, they are concerned that funding cuts have left them unable to prepare for similar fires in future.
They said: “In the time since the fire, the government’s facile approach has utterly failed all those involved that night and the thousands of people who are at risk across the country.
“After two years, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has delivered no answers and we are no closer to tackling any of the underlying causes of the tragedy.
“Countless homes are still wrapped in flammable materials, while warnings from tenants about risks to their safety go ignored. Fire and rescue services are, in the face of continued cuts, unable to prepare for a similar incident, with no national structures or coordination from government.
“As things stand, we risk sleepwalking into another catastrophic loss of life. We demand urgent action from government to ensure that the events of Grenfell Tower can never happen again.”
Even two years after the fire, many survivors have been unable to move on: more than a dozen families are still in temporary accommodation, 1,618 adults have been treated for mental health issues related to the tragedy, as have 398 children.
Despite almost 100 days of hearings during the first phase of the inquiry into the fire, including seven days of commemoration hearings, 19 days of survivors and 43 days of firefighters giving evidence, there has been no conclusion yet. The first of the two stages ended in December and police said in March that no charges are likely to be brought in their criminal investigation until after the final report is produced.
To mark the anniversary, there will be a memorial service at nearby St Helen’s Church in the morning before white doves are released and a private gathering is held by the tower for survivors to lay wreaths.
Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle died in the fire, said the bereaved wanted to “be a presence to everyone else, show them that we are still here and we are still standing strong together, dignified, respectful, we aren’t going to go away, we’re not going to fade away and we’re not going to let others forget our loved ones and for us to be swept under the carpet”.
Yvette Williams, a co-ordinator of campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell, said: “I think foremost in people’s minds will be: 72 dead, still no arrests, how come?
Speaking about the 15 people convicted and jailed for fraudulently claiming more than £700,000 in sustenance and accommodation following the fire, she said people “are seeing almost a two-tier system”.
She added: “We have had prosecutions – we’ve had loads of them, and they’ve been the opportunists and fraudsters that said they lived in the tower and claimed public resources.
“The major players… we’ve heard a few people have gone in for questioning, they’re roaming free.”
As for the building itself, the shell of the 24-storey tower left behind by the flames, it is covered by white sheeting, as it has been for just over a year, with a green heart and the words “Grenfell forever in our hearts” painted across the top four floors.
Legal responsibility for the land will be handed over to the government later this month.