Government reappoints the same company to write the ‘Means of Escape for Disabled People’ guidance: A statement from Claddag

Claddag are shocked and outraged to learn that the Home Office has commissioned C S Todd & Associates to re-write the Means of Escape for Disabled People, and the other suite of fire safety guidance documents.

C S Todd & Associates authored the guidance document Fire Safety in Purpose-Built Flats, published by the Local Government Association (LGA) in 2011 with the support of Government, which has been the subject of judicial review. This guidance advised building managers for ten years that it was “unrealistic” to prepare emergency evacuation plans for disabled residents. The specific wording which legitimised a less robust approach to disabled people was redacted by the Government late last year, shortly after there was a threat of legal action by the family of disabled resident who lost their life in Grenfell Tower.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard that 41% of the disabled residents of the tower died during the fire.

As part of the consultation on the LGA guidance, the Chief Fire Officers Association stated that “to ignore and eliminate advice on disabled access and evacuation is a fundamental error of the document.”

Disabled people living in blocks of flats are fighting the legacy of the ‘stay put’ ethos every day. Claddag are frequently contacted by disabled people who cannot secure evacuation plans from their managing agents or even the support of their local fire service. This is despite the Government’s proposals, consulted upon last year, to require managing agents to implement them in a U-turn approach.

Claddag co-founder, Sarah Rennie, had lived in a block of flats in Birmingham since 2008. She is a wheelchair user and, for over 10 years, was advised by the Fire Service to stay put and not attempt to evacuate. “After the Grenfell Tower tragedy,” Sarah explains, “I felt frightened to stay in my flat when everyone else was ordered to immediately evacuate when the klaxons are sounded. I approached my managing agents for a personal evacuation plan but their advisors told them it was a matter for the Fire Service. I found an independent expert to help me draw up a plan and, with the support of the building’s Board, follow it myself anyway. But this makes me one of the lucky ones. I feel sick to my stomach that the authors of the LGA guidance are being commissioned by the Government to further influence policy on the lives of disabled people.”

Georgie Hulme, Claddag co-founder, is also a wheelchair user and is fighting for an evacuation plan. “I also live in a flat where the evacuation guidance changed from ‘stay put’ to ‘simultaneous evacuation.’ However, like so many other disabled, I was refused an evacuation plan. I was informed that I would need to wait for the Fire Service to attend before I could evacuate. Like Sarah, I obtained expert advice and embarrassingly crowdfunded for an evac chair, just to feel safer, even though neither are ‘officially’ recognised. I felt that there was some hope following the Government’s consultation last year, but now it feels that disabled people will have to continue the same fight, when all we want is an equal right to evacuate residential buildings in an emergency. There is no reason to think any lessons have been learnt and, as is often the case, our lives will continue to be viewed as inferior. I feel upset and angry that the Home Office have agreed this, especially considering the history.”

Last year, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, boldly condemned Mercedes F1 for a sponsorship with Grenfell insulation firm, Kingspan. That was a private commercial arrangement. However, this is a Home Office contract. We ask Mr Gove – and Lord Greenhalgh (Minister of State for Building Safety and Fire) – for urgent comment and intervention.

Disabled people’s lives are of no less value. The LGA guidance, for which C S Todd & Associates were commissioned as editors, legitimised a discriminatory approach to disabled people. We fight the legacy of that guidance each day.

By awarding yet another contract to the authors of that guidance, the Government sends a message of endorsement of this discriminatory approach and demonstrates that it has learned nothing from the judicial review or the Grenfell Tower tragedy. We implore the Home Office to immediately review its decision on the award of this contract.

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