EHRC submission to Grenfell Tower Phase 1 Inquiry

The following are extracts from the EHRC submission to the Inquiry relating to vulnerable and disabled people, for the full EHRC submission, click here:

Section 101: In circumstances where a risk to life is posed to a vulnerable groups, the case- law makes it clear that the State should take particular care to ensure that measures taken “correspond to [those persons’] special needs”: Jasinskis §59. The Commission considers that Grenfell Tower posed a particular threat to life for vulnerable groups, such as children, pregnant women, elderly people, disabled people and those who were not fluent in English (that is, from certain minority/racial/national groups). The Commission is of the view that the Government failed to take protective measures that adequately corresponded to the needs of these vulnerable groups. As well as raising issues under equality and non-discrimination law (which is addressed below §§119-120), this also raises issues in respect of Article 2 ECHR.

Section 115: The overwhelming weight of the fire service evidence demonstrated that no priority was given to, or maintained, in respect of calls from those who were exceptionally vulnerable. This tended to be explained on the basis that the extent of the fire meant that all residents were a priority for rescue [48/68/22ff]. Although some firefighters did assert that specific priority was given to calls from residents affected by difficulties due to age or disability etc, it is by no means clear what that system of prioritisation was or how it was applied to meaningful effect on the night [15/120/16ff]; [15/158/1ff]; and [30/47/20ff].

Section 177: As noted in the Todd Report, the Fire Safety Order 2005 does not include any provision for arrangements of evacuation of a vulnerable resident when a fire occurs in their own flat. The Todd Report went on to state that this “does not imply that nothing can, or should, be done to address the risk to vulnerable residents from a fire within their own flat. On the contrary, this is important, but it is a matter for multi-agency co-operation to identify vulnerable persons, assess their risk and provide appropriate support” (see §§2.103 – 2.104).

Section 118: The Lane Report at §2.20.11(e) expressed concern about how the absence of a statutory requirement to fit blocks of flats with a means of raising an alarm or providing announcements would “affect those who require assistance to evacuate from high-rise residential buildings” (at §2.20.11(e)). According to Dr Lane, “the lack of provision [in the LGA guidance] for persons requiring assistance in a high rise residential building is unacceptable, and results in a substantial breach of the functional requirement for means of escape under the Building Regulations. In my view, the LGA guidance should be updated to adequately deal with persons requiring assistance from ‘general needs’ blocks” (§2.25.10). In her oral presentation, Dr Lane noted that “[t]here is no provision required in the statutory guidance for residential buildings, unlike other building types, to provide equipment for [persons requiring assistance], so there is no provision made for them to either contact building management, should they even be present in a building, nor to communicate directly with the fire service present in the building. The person can only make a personal 999 call. In other building types, refuges with communication devices are required” [5/35/3ff].

Section 119: As will be apparent, the failures by the State identified above give rise to a number of equality and discrimination issues. The Commission believes that these require consideration by the Inquiry. On the evidence available the Commission considers that a number of the failures identified above and below indicate a breach of the State’s equality and non-discrimination duties. They include:

(1)  The absence of any legal requirement to ensure that high-rise residential buildings are fitted with means that would allow disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women or those with children or otherwise needing assistance, to raise the alarm, to evacuate from high-rise residential buildings or to find refuge in a safe place (§118 above).

(2)  The failure to take account of the special needs of disabled people, elderly people or pregnant women and (particularly very young) children when allocating housing in the upper floors of a tower block. No regard appears to have been had as to how their safety would be secured in the event of an urgent need to evacuate

(5) The failure to provide fire safety advice to disabled and elderly people and pregnant women or those with children residing in Grenfell Tower on the steps they should take in the event of a need to urgently evacuate despite the greater risk to them posed by a fire (§§99-100 above).

(7) The absence of any plan for the evacuation of disabled people, elderly people or pregnant women and women with (particularly very young) children in the event of an urgent need to evacuate Grenfell Tower in advance of the night of the fire, or on the night of the fire despite the greater risk to them posed by a fire (§§94(4), 95).

(8) The absence of any prioritising of disabled people, elderly people or pregnant women and people with (particularly very young) children for evacuation on the night of the fire despite the greater risk to them posed by the fire (§§113-115).

Section 180: The Commission has seen no evidence which would indicate that the PSED was discharged (i) in the formulating of housing allocation policy; (ii) in the preparation of fire safety plans; (iii) in the development of guidance; (iv) in the provision of information, or (v) in the development of Building Regulations.