Outrage as ministers reject post-Grenfell safety plans for disabled people

Ministers have rejected a key recommendation from the Grenfell Tower public inquiry that all disabled tenants should be given a personal evacuation plan in the event of a fire, sparking anger from survivors and disability campaigners.

Fifteen of the 37 disabled residents perished in the 2017 fire and Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the chairman of the inquiry, recommended in October 2019 that the “owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans [Peeps] for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised (such as persons with reduced mobility or cognition)”.

But the Home Office said it has decided it is not proportionate or practical to introduce the plan, citing problems such as the costs to landlords. It said good relations between disabled and non-disabled residents could be put at risk if the latter had to shoulder costs associated with the evacuation plans such as buying evacuation chairs, or modifying buildings.

“The evidence base for Peeps is not sufficient to mandate their implementation in high-rise residential buildings at this stage,” it said, as it announced a new consultation on alternative proposals.

In 2019 Boris Johnson told parliament: “Where Sir Martin recommends responsibility for fire safety to be taken on by central government, we will legislate accordingly.”

Robert Jenrick, then the communities secretary, added: “As the prime minister said in his opening remarks, the government will accept all of the findings of the report and accept them in full.”

Disability Rights UK said the government’s decision was “utterly reprehensible and shows that it does not consider our lives to have equal value with non-disabled people”.

Fazilet Hadi, Disability Rights UK’s head of policy, said: “The recommendation that Peeps be put in place was made by the Grenfell Tower inquiry in October 2019, following evidence from fire safety experts. Almost 40% of the disabled residents living in the tower died in the fire, and it is highly likely that their lives could have been saved had Peeps been in place … the government’s decision is a dereliction of its duties under the law, and fails to uphold our human rights.”

Grenfell United, which represents bereaved people and survivors, said the decision “has left us speechless. Outraged.” It said the Grenfell inquiry “concluded that the government must drop its reliance on stay put and provide personal evacuation plans for disabled residents”.

“Today – three years on – the government has announced it will not implement this core recommendation,” it said in a statement. “They have decided that cutting costs is more important than the value of human life. We will not let this be brushed under the carpet.”

The alternative being considered by ministers involves sharing the location of disabled residents with fire services. This would probably be limited to residential blocks with an evacuation, rather than a stay put, strategy in place – typically buildings considered more at fire risk. In these buildings, landlords would be required to ask residents to make themselves known if they feel they might need support to evacuate in the event of a fire.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said it would be “completely unacceptable to have a situation where high-risk buildings in which residents who can do so are told to evacuate immediately if there is a fire, but disabled residents are left inside in the hope of rescue by the fire service”.

“There needs to be an obligation on landlords to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of disabled residents,” said Cllr Ian Stephens, the chair of the LGA fire services management committee.

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