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Over 200 Grenfell children will spend Christmas in hotels

PICTURED: Labour MP Emma Dent Coad

AFTER THREE recounts, winning the Kensington seat for Labour felt like a dream come true. I imagined that I would soon get to work establishing my office and fighting (once again) for better funding and facilities for Carnival along with the right to remain for EU nationals. I thought I would be fighting for a review of social housing funding and provision, and for the countless other local and national campaigns I've been involved in for many years.

Parliament gives you a higher platform, and I had a good idea how I could use my new role to speak out loud and often for my Kensington constituents. I could never have imagined that within days my neighbourhood would suffer the worst domestic peacetime disaster - the Grenfell Tower fire - which took the lives of so many including personal friends and their children.

It is heart-breaking every single day, to meet people affected and do my best to get them housed, fed, cared for physically and mentally, and back to school and work – while working to achieve the justice that everyone so desperately needs.

Yet here I am, and I’m here to stay. Every day I am reminded of our community here in Kensington. I am also acutely aware (though some are not) of the particular toll that the disaster inflicted on members of the BAME community in Kensington. Seeing the support offered by local MPs who have a particular empathy with some of our victims and survivors, namely Diane Abbott, Kate Osamor, Dawn Butler, Marsha De Cordova and David Lammy, has given many in our community that extra ounce of hope.

It is hard to believe, after six months, and with all the government funding and support that has been committed to helping Grenfell survivors, that 303 children who lost their homes due to the fire at Grenfell Tower are living in temporary accommodation, of which 226 are in bed and breakfast accommodation in hotels.

It is illegal for children to live in bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than six weeks, yet many have been stuck in B&B hotels for the entire six-month period.

Figures obtained at the beginning of November include families made homeless from the ‘finger blocks’ and other nearby buildings who are unable to return to their homes. These figures, correct on November 3, 2017 are around 50% higher than the weekly official updates and give a true account of post-Grenfell homelessness:

376 households in temporary accommodation
- of which 311 households in B&B hotels, 15 in serviced apartments, and 50 in temporary flats

857 individuals living in temporary accommodation
- of which 714 in B&B hotels, or hostels for single people

303 children living in temporary accommodation
- of which 226 are in B&B hotels, 24 in serviced apartments, and 53 in temporary flats.

Of the 376 households in all kinds of temporary accommodation, 201 are out of borough.

I cannot believe that if 857 white British individuals were made homeless in some terrible atrocity, in the richest borough in Europe, that after six months 714 would be abandoned in B&Bs.

It is indefensible, it is heartless, it is immoral - and for children it is illegal. I cannot imagine a worse prospect for traumatised families than being stuck in a hotel for six months with your children - at Christmas.

We have some wonderful voluntary organisations and individual volunteers working with people affected by the fire. But, after six months, why must our Grenfell homeless rely on charity? As one survivor told me: ‘they took my past, give me a future’.

The Public Inquiry opened on Monday 11 December. I applied to be a Core Participant along with other Labour Councillors (as I am still on the Council) but was turned down, and turned down again on appeal. Instead we are considered to be ‘one group’ along with the Conservative Cabinet Members who were actually responsible for the specification of materials and signing off the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

It is hugely frustrating, and does not feel like justice.

So I very much welcome the announcement by David Isaac of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that they will be running their own Inquiry to look into the Council’s alleged failure to protect life and provide safe housing. The bereaved families and survivors are also relieved to see there may be justice of the kind they need so badly.

I hope to work closely with the EHRC on the issues that matter most to those who have lost so much due to the ineptitude of the Council and KCTMO.

I still believe the government should put RBKC Council into special measures, and appoint politically neutral Commissioners with the skills and experience necessary to takeover the Grenfell response, and the running of those Council departments which are deemed to be failing.

Every day that goes by under the current failing regime, is another day of uncertainty for bereaved and traumatised families they have so clearly failed to serve.

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