In a snapshot survey answered by nearly 200 tenants across the UK, a total of 127 have said their mental health had been “hugely affected” by cladding problems.
Reports reveal that residents of tower blocks wrapped in combustible Grenfell-style cladding have turned to drink and drugs, as well as suffering bouts of depression and suicidal feelings, as freeholders, developers and the government “continue to refuse” to fund repairs.
Tens of thousands of people, many of whom are revealed to be first-time buyers, are living in 166 privately owned tower blocks where remedial work has yet to be completed, 22 months after the Grenfell fire tragically claimed 72 lives.
According to the latest government figures, there are no plans in place for 71 blocks.
The survey, conducted by UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG), further revealed that 75 people had turned to alcohol and seven people to drugs because of the stress.
One resident said her mental health is at “breaking point”, living with fears that her flat could burn down at any time.
Katie Peate, 28, said: “It’s the last thing I think about at night. I dream about it and it is the first thing I think about in the morning.” She and her partner have even put on plans to have a baby due to financial uncertainty.
Some residents have been revealed to take matters into their own hands and conduct their own 24-hour fire watches to reduce the cost of keeping residents safe.
In Manchester, one of the worst affected cities, residents at Burton Place were told last month they were each facing £80,000 bills for repairs to replace wooden cladding, combustible insulation and missing fire breaks.
Further testimonies gathered by UKCAG included:
• “I genuinely believe nothing will be done until we have a second tragedy in a private block…I feel constantly stressed, anxious, depressed, lost, abandoned and devastated”
• “I am struggling to get through each day. Gone is the enjoyment of life”
• “I worry about it daily and now am in counselling because of stress and anxiety. I wake up every night worrying about everything”
The housing secretary, James Brokenshire, has repeatedly insisted it is the responsibility of freeholders and developers to pay, and has threatened unspecified action if they do not.
Brokenshire said he understood the “anguish faced by those who continue to live in buildings with ACM cladding” and said the government was “looking at a range of new additional measures to get building owners to do the right thing and get on with it”.
This is said to have led to frustration among private leaseholders who point out that the government started releasing a £400m fund to fix social housing last October.
William Martin, a member of UKCAG and a resident of the affected Metis building in Sheffield, said: “These figures reveal nothing short of a mental health crisis among residents of these buildings.
“The threat of financial ruin combined with the safety fears that come from sleeping each night in a building which is known to be unsafe is ruining lives.
“Many residents are first-time buyers, young families and professionals at the start of their working life who simply cannot afford the bill for the refurbishment.”
He added: “In many blocks, residents have already spent their life savings paying for interim measures. It is beyond time for the government to step in and act.”
The residents have given ministers a deadline of 14th June, the second anniversary of the Grenfell disaster.
Their campaign is being backed by the survivors and bereaved group Grenfell United; as well as Labour and Conservative MPs; the Chartered Institute of Housing; and Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.