'Prisoner in my own home’: Warning disabled people's lives at risk after Grenfell reforms ignored

ITV News social affairs correspondent Sarah Corker was at court to meet campaigners fighting to implement safety reforms recommended at the Grenfell Inquiry

Adam Gabsi’s building in London is wrapped in dangerous cladding.

On 62 different occasions this year, the lifts in his social housing block have been broken, leaving him trapped and fearing for his safety.

He suffers from multiple sclerosis and has had to be carried up and down six storeys.

“It’s really scary, relying on others to carry you backwards up flights of stairs. Access to your home is a basic human right, and it’s stopped me from living my life.”

The 37-year-old, who is also vice chair of the Harrow Association of Disabled People, fears if there was an emergency he wouldn’t be able to get out of the building without help. “Not only is there a danger in case of a fire, but I’m on the sixth  floor with no way to get out. I’ve been a prisoner in my own home. Sixty two days trapped this year,” he said.

The lift in Adam Gabsi’s building has broken down 62 times this year - forcing him to be carried in his wheelchair up to the sixth floor by others

Disability campaigners are taking legal action against the government over its refusal to implement Grenfell safety reforms.

Seventy two people died in the fire in June 2017; campaigners say 40% of them had disabilities.

“The government haven’t put any value on my life. It makes me feel like I’m not a priority,” Mr Gabsi said.

Adam Gabsi fears if there was an emergency he wouldn’t be able to get out of the building without help

In 2019, the Grenfell Inquiry recommended that all disabled people in high-rise blocks should have personal emergency evacuation plans - known as PEEPS - helping to protect an estimated 160,000 vulnerable people in England. But the government rejected those reforms . Sarah Rennie, co-founder of the disability campaign group Claddag, is leading the legal action to get the decision over-turned.

“The fact that five years on since Grenfell, the government hasn’t implemented that recommendation, I think it’s a disgrace. I also think it’s irresponsible. We know that these buildings have high safety risk issues, it makes us feel like our lives have less value,” she told ITV News. A former solicitor, 37-year-old Ms Rennie bought her two-bedroom flat in a high-rise block in Birmingham in 2008. As a wheelchair user, it's been specially adapted to her needs.

"It makes us feel like our lives have less value" - campaigner Sarah Rennie says lack of action is putting disabled people's lives in danger

In 2019, Ms Rennie found out the building was wrapped in dangerous cladding. Work is still ongoing to make it safe.

“We’ve already lost our life savings, now we are talking about our right to survive in a fire, having that debated so coldly, and go to all those meetings and hear people say it's disproportionate, and it's best to stay put, it’s hard to hear that. A lot of disabled people are living in fear.” In Manchester, Georgie Hulme had to crowdfund to buy herself an evacuation chair. She can’t work because of severe Tourette's syndrome and relies on disability benefits. Her block is still encased in flammable cladding.

Ms Hulme, 43, lives on the third floor and fears she’d be the last to escape in an emergency. “I think it’s beyond disgraceful and disrespects people who died at Grenfell. How much time do they (government) need to do this? It’s been five and a half years and three consultations on this.”

Georgie Hulme says the failure to implement safety reforms is "beyond disgraceful and disrespects people who died at Grenfell, survivors and bereaved"

“If you can’t self-evacuate you are expected to wait to be rescued by the fire and rescue service, why should disabled people have to wait when a plan could be in place to reduce the risk,” she said. In its response to the consultation on this issue in May, the government claimed that PEEPs would not be practical, proportionate or safe, and that disabled residents should either stay put or rely on rescue by firefighters. 

The Home Office told ITV News that research into evacuation strategies is ongoing and that it is "committed to delivering proposals that enhance the safety of residents whose ability to self-evacuate in an emergency may be compromised." A government spokesperson said:  “Our public consultation on Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing Plus sought views on the scope of evacuation plans and we are currently analysing the responses. “Working closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council and London Fire Brigade, we commissioned research to test evacuation strategies, for which live testing took place this year. A research team is now completing the evaluation of the evacuation strategy tests.” 

Mr Gabsi’s housing association said it is "thoroughly committed to supporting residents, especially those with mobility difficulties."

It said an evacuation has been agreed with Mr Gabsi that "meets his support needs if the lifts are not working".

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