We are horrified and deeply dismayed by Lord Greenhalgh’s announcement that the Government does not agree that disabled people should have a right to a personal emergency evacuation plan. This follows a 9-month wait since the Government’s second consultation on the matter. It now proposes to launch a third one.
It is unconscionable that the Government has dismissed, for a third time, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendation for personal emergency evacuation plans for disabled people living in high rise buildings. The tragedy involved the deaths of over 40% of disabled residents.
Lord Greenhalgh is wrong to assert that mobility-impaired people cannot evacuate without the fire and rescue service. Many of us do this already thanks to an evacuation plan drawn up with responsible managing agents and following an informed discussion, reflecting on the options, making some adjustments and briefing those involved. This is why it is called ‘a plan’. Radio and TV awareness campaigns encourage us all to have plans in place should our homes catch fire – the Government clearly believes this caution and responsibility should only extend to non-disabled people.
We were sickened to hear the Minister question whether any associated costs of evacuation plans are reasonable as he “seeks to protect residents and taxpayers” from costs. Lord Greenhalgh has repeated the tired myth that every evacuation plan involves a cost. Further, this comment is shocking given that the Government has done nothing to protect leaseholders across the UK from exhausting their life savings and facing bankruptcy as a result of the building safety crisis. Lord Greenhalgh is provoking fear and resentment among cash-strapped leaseholders against their disabled neighbours, based on a dangerous generalisation.
The final blow was Lord Greenhalgh’s attempt to shame disabled people into ‘staying put’ in a fire to avoid “hindering others” from evacuating. Please let that sink in.
It is preposterous for the Government to assert that it is ‘committed to supporting the fire safety of disabled people’ when it rejects the use of evacuation plans on the basis of costs, convenience and ableism.
It is clear that the Government is poorly advised in this area of policy, as demonstrated by the Minister’s consistent references to people with “mobility concerns” only. Standard emergency evacuation protocols also exclude disabled and older people with a range of impairments including visual impairments, learning disabilities and Deaf people.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a duty on responsible persons to have procedures in place in the event of serious danger. There is no exclusion for disabled people. Any landlord who disregards this duty and refuses to implement an evacuation plan for a disabled person faces serious legal liability.
We do not support a third consultation. It is not necessary and is a shameful attempt to evade the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendations.