Disabled campaigners say they are “horrified” and “sickened” by the government’s “unconscionable” refusal to ensure that disabled people living in high-rise buildings have the right to a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP).
Fire minister Lord [Stephen] Greenhalgh told fellow peers on Monday that the government had to question how much it was “reasonable to spend” on ensuring that disabled people have a PEEP as ministers “seek to protect residents and taxpayers from excessive costs”.
He was speaking on Monday as the House of Lords finished its examination of the government’s building safety bill, which will now return to the Commons for MPs to consider amendments made by peers.
The bill approaches its final parliamentary stages nearly five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people lost their lives, including 15 of its 37 disabled residents.
The ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry has already recommended that owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be legally required to prepare PEEPs for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.
But the government has refused to back such a proposal in its bill.
As well as the cost of making PEEPs mandatory, Lord Greenhalgh (pictured, above left) said on Monday that a government consultation also raised other “substantial difficulties”.
He said: “On practicality, how can you evacuate a mobility-impaired person from a tall building before the professionals from the fire and rescue service arrive?
“On safety, how can you ensure that an evacuation of mobility-impaired people is carried out in a way that does not hinder others in evacuating or the fire and rescue service in fighting the fire?”
He said the government would now launch another consultation, this time looking at its new plans for “emergency evacuation information-sharing” (EEIS), although it has yet to explain how EEIS would work.
It plans to publish the proposals next month on the same day that it releases its response to its PEEPs consultation.
A government spokesperson yesterday (Wednesday) declined to provide any further details about ministers’ EEIS plans.
The minister’s comments have horrified campaigners from Claddag, a disabled-led leaseholder action group that is fighting for disabled people within blocks of flats to have the right to an evacuation plan.
Claddag said the new consultation was a “shameful attempt to evade the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendations” and described the government’s continuing refusal to accept the PEEPs recommendation as “unconscionable”.
A Claddag spokesperson said they were “horrified and deeply dismayed” by Lord Greenhalgh’s comments.
She added: “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.
“[He] 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.”
Claddag said Lord Greenhalgh was wrong to suggest that it was not possible to evacuate mobility-impaired residents before firefighters arrive.
To demonstrate why he was wrong and to highlight Claddag’s concerns about the government’s “absurd” position, Claddag co-founder Sarah Rennie (pictured, above right) has given Disability News Service permission to publish details of her own PEEP (see below).
She said: “I presented my own evacuation plan to my managing agents, despite their fire safety advisors urging them to refuse to accept a plan for me and leave me to the fire service. A friend who specialises in evacuation plans helped me put mine together.
“I live on the 13th floor and moved in to my flat on the understanding I could use the lift in a fire.
“As part of the building safety crisis, we discovered my lift was not constructed properly and could not be used in a fire.”
“We are able to hear our fire alarm clearly. If we are in the flat, my personal assistant (PA) collects my evacuation chair and hoists me into it. All my PAs are trained how to use it and practice regularly. Many of my neighbours have my phone number and check on my whereabouts as we descend the flights of stairs so they can keep the fire service and building management briefed on my location.
“We had a real fire in January on the eighth floor. Despite the time it takes me to transfer and move down the stairs, I had managed to get to the floor below the fire before the fire service arrived. This massively improved my risk of survival. What’s more we barely passed anyone on the stairs as they’d all long gone, so I don’t understand how Greenhalgh thinks I hinder anyone.
“Whilst not everyone has a full time PA like me, not everyone needs this to evacuate. Some people simply need a guiding arm from a neighbour or to check they heard the alarm.
“I have all the components I could possibly need to evacuate safely, so it’s absurd that the government’s policy against evacuation plans would stop me if my managing agents were not responsible and progressive.
“Without my evacuation plan, I would be forced to stay put. Research shows it takes 27 minutes for the Fire Service to intervene. Being rescued in a rush to save your life, without appropriate training or equipment for your impairment, may lead to significant or life-changing injuries. But by rejecting the opportunity to evacuate with time and planning, we’re making these unnecessary injuries virtually inevitable, not to mention the pressure being put on the fire service.”
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