DISABLED Grenfell campaigners are shocked and outraged at the reappointment of the very same firm that wrote fire safety guidance before the Grenfell Tower fire to write new guidance on evacuations in light of the terrible disaster.
After the outcry the Home Office has now promised to ‘look into’ the award of a contract for new fire safety guidance to the same firm that wrote pre-Grenfell guides.
CS Todd & Associates were this week announced as the successful bidder for a public contract to prepare several new documents and revisions of prior guides, including an update to guidance on the means of escape for disabled people.
The firm also wrote pre-Grenfell guidance which said it was ‘usually unrealistic’ to expect the owners of high-rise buildings to provide evacuation plans for disabled residents.
In a statement, a spokesperson for campaigners Cladding Disability Action Group (Claddag) said the firm’s reappointment left her ‘sick to her stomach’, with the organisation claiming that its previous guidance had ‘legitimised a discriminatory approach to disabled people’.
When Claddag criticised the appointment on Twitter last Monday, building safety minister Lord Greenhalgh promised to ‘look into’ the award.
However, in a statement he defended it – saying CS Todd has ‘significant technical experience in complex fire safety matters’.
The issue of the provision of personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) to disabled residents in high-rise buildings has been a major point of controversy at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
None of the residents of Grenfell Tower were given PEEPS, with lawyers for bereaved and survivors describing the blaze as a ‘landmark act of discrimination’ against disabled people.
It is believed that 41% of the victims had a disability that may have hindered their ability to escape.
Building manager the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) has admitted not taking steps to identify these residents or plan for their escape.
Its witnesses have said this was in accordance with CS Todd & Associates’ guidance, first published in 2011, with the endorsement of the government.
The guide, published in the aftermath of the Lakanal House fire, said it was ‘usually unrealistic to expect landlords … to have in place special arrangements’ to evacuate those with disabilities.
But this contradicted other guidance documents in force at the time, which required building owners to ensure all residents could evacuate in an emergency without the assistance of firefighters.
Colin Todd, director of CS Todd & Associates and an expert witness to the inquiry, defended the guide when he gave evidence last summer.
He said it was a matter of ‘reasonable practicability’ and that reliance on stay put was ‘favourable’ to disabled residents, providing the building was properly maintained.
His evidence was contradicted by another expert, Dr Barbara Lane, who described the failure to identify vulnerable residents at Grenfell Tower as ‘not acceptable’.
The inquiry’s first phase report recommended the provision of PEEPs to all residents of high-rise buildings on the strength of the recommendation of several expert witnesses, with only Todd advising against it.
Despite promising to execute the suggestions in full, the government initially sought to water down the implementation of this recommendation following pressure from industry lobbyists, before opening a new consultation under the threat of judicial review from survivors’ lawyers.
Todd also helped write a new British Standard, published last year, which said it was ‘not normally practicable’ for fire risk assessments to identify people with disabilities or for landlords to make provision for their evacuation in a fire.
This was withdrawn by the BSI after a further threat of judicial review and the Home Office agreed to redact the original 2011 guidance after lawyers sought a review on this point as well.
Commenting on the appointment of CS Todd & Associates, Sarah Rennie, a wheelchair user who lives in a block with dangerous cladding, said: ‘I feel sick to my stomach that the authors of the 2011 guidance are being commissioned by the government to further influence policy on the lives of disabled people.’
She explained that she had lived in a Birmingham block for 10 years and had always been advised to ‘stay put’ in the event of a fire. It was only after Grenfell that dangerous cladding was discovered on the walls.
In a statement, Lord Greenhalgh said: ‘Keeping the public safe is our top priority and we are determined to ensure the tragedy of Grenfell Tower does not happen again.
‘CS Todd & Associates has significant technical experience in complex fire safety matters and is appointed to provide guidance relating to fire safety.
‘The company was the successful applicant for the contract after an open and fair procurement process.
‘There is strong governance in place, which is kept under regular review, to oversee the direction and detail of the guidance before it’s published.’
- Meanwhile, the number of disabled people living in poverty has risen by over a million since the Conservatives took power in 2010, new analysis by Labour can reveal.
Analysis of Department for Work and Pensions figures shows that since the Conservatives entered government, the number of disabled people living in poverty has rocketed to 3.8 million – a 44% increase since 2010.
The overall rate of disability poverty now stands at 27%, having grown by nearly a fifth since the Tories took office. It means millions of disabled people are now being disproportionately affected by the Conservatives’ cost of living crisis.
It comes after the Conservatives voted against Labour’s binding vote to cut VAT on home energy bills to reduce expected price rises in April this month.
Labour’s policy would help many of the disabled people struggling under the Conservatives with targeted support of up to £600 off their bills, as part of a fully-funded package that would see most households in the country save £200 or more.
Disabled people have already been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with 82% of those on Universal Credit and legacy benefits reporting having to spend more money than usual on greater food shopping and utility bills.
Despite this the government buried a £70 million stealth cut to disability benefits in the Autumn Budget, just two weeks after a consultation on reform proposals closed.
Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, said: ‘The Conservatives’ cost of living crisis has seen poverty explode, with a million more disabled people now trapped in hardship since they took office.
‘Instead of taking action to help them, the Tories slashed Universal Credit, cut £70m in disability benefits, and voted against Labour’s measure to reduce energy bills.
‘Labour’s contract with the British people will ensure disabled people are treated with respect, and our fully-costed energy plan would see those most in need getting up to £600 off their energy bills.’
- Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) Sheffield is demanding better buses for South Yorkshire.
DPAC Sheffield said: ‘We has a strong record of holding public transport providers to account, most notably through our active part in The South Yorkshire Freedom Ride campaign where we contributed significantly to the campaign that successfully restored free transport across the local train network to disabled people with passes.
‘Our experience as disabled people has exposed the unacceptable deficiencies in the present model of bus service provision and we are going to give an honest assessment of these deficiencies.
‘Section C of Article 19 of The United Nations Convention of Rights for Persons with Disabilities living independently and being included in the community’ states:
‘Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs.
‘Disabled people rely heavily on bus services to access community services and facilities: education, healthcare, visiting family and friends, employment, council services, leisure, shopping for food and clothes, and many other activities and services vital to an independent life.
‘Many disabled people do not own a car for various reasons, such as the prohibitive costs of owning and running a car, having a condition that means we are unable to drive or have had Motability vehicles confiscated by a cruel and punitive disability payments regime.
‘Yet our needs and basic human rights as disabled people using buses in South Yorkshire are most often treated as an afterthought by an apparatus working for bus companies seeking to make a profit from our patronage.’