Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections

Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

June 19, 2017
6 min read

In the wake of the horrifying Grenfell Tower disaster, people are starting to ask questions about why reports on housing safety were sat on and ignored. And the finger is being pointed towards the government’s ‘war on red tape’ – more specifically, towards a little-known policy on regulations called ‘one-in, three-out’.

As anyone who’s ever worked with us can attest, Stephen Devlin and I have been banging on about this for literally years. We wrote about it, for example, in this report for the New Economics Foundation. But it’s only since Brexit that civil society has really started to sit up and take notice of the war on our protections – particularly with the advent of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, through which the government hopes to strip out many of those protections which derive from EU law.

The rules look only at costs, not safety

So here’s a quick primer on what people are talking about when they talk about things like ‘one in, three out’. The architecture the government has put in place has three main pillars, each of which are systematically designed to prevent new laws being passed and to privilege the interests of big business over ordinary people:

No government department can introduce a new law that imposes a cost to business unless it can find another law to repeal that cuts costs to business by at least three times that amount

‘One in, three out’ (OITO). This means that no government department can introduce a new law that imposes a cost to business unless it can find another law to repeal that cuts costs to business by at least three times that amount. With the policy having been steadily ratcheting up for 7 years now, this basically means that new laws are nigh on impossible to introduce, because there is precious little left to cut.

Impact assessments. This is the way civil servants have to assess proposed new laws to comply with OITO. All potential impacts have to have a price put on them, which immediately undervalues things that are hard to put a price on – like the benefits of clean air or safe homes. But it doesn’t matter anyway, because as far as OITO is concerned, the only number that matters is the cost to business: the benefits to society are literally irrelevant.

The Regulatory Policy Committee. This is a quango with the power to give the green or red light to impact assessments, effectively vetoing new laws if they don’t think the OITO figures are good enough. It might sound like a bunch of technocrats, but it’s actually stuffed with corporate lobbyists. Stephen and I found that from 2013-2015 they met almost exclusively with other lobbyists, and boasted about being an ‘effective brake’ on government’s ability to pass laws. Yes, we are putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse.

The key thing to understand about this regime is that it applies to any law that costs businesses money. That includes the cost of paying the minimum wage, the cost of building diesel engines that don’t emit poisonous fumes – and, yes, the cost of making our homes safe to live in. I’ve seen well-meaning people responding to social media posts about ‘red tape’ in the wake of the Grenfell disaster by saying ‘Oh, but when I hear red tape talked about it’s normally in the context of small businesses and the amount of forms they have to fill in, which is a real issue.’ Yes – that’s what you hear talked about. But under cover of that narrative, what the government is actually doing is not just reducing administrative burdens, but cutting back all the laws that keep us safe.

The appalling fate of the Grenfell residents has laid bare the human consequences of this inhuman policy. And they are not the first casualties in this war on protections. Scientists have found that handing control of plans to cut salt and sugar in food to the likes of McDonald’s and Mars may have contributed to 6,000 deaths a year. The government raised the speed limit for lorries on single carriageways in order to cut costs for haulage companies, despite acknowledging it would likely cause a 14 per cent increase in accidents.

Cutting corners

So make no mistake – this isn’t about form filling. This is about whose side you’re on – the side of big businesses with an interest in cutting corners, or the side of those who need protecting from exploitation and harm. Whether it’s our homes, our food, or the air we breathe, we need to scrap this poisonous regime if we want to be safe in this country.

After Grenfell, there are clearly a lot of battles that need to be fought to keep others safe and make sure that this kind of disaster can never happen again. More generally, the spotlight is turning onto the human cost of our dysfunctional housing market, and it must be kept firmly on it until we start to turn houses back into homes, rather than simply financial assets to be speculated with.

But there’s a wider war here that we mustn’t lose sight of. We have a real chance to rehabilitate the concept of laws and protections, and defeat the government’s pernicious deregulatory agenda. This stuff can be hard to mobilise around because it feels abstract and unimportant. But I just can’t get the horrific images from Grenfell Tower out of my mind – and they are reminding me in every single moment that this policy is neither abstract nor unimportant. It kills, and it will continue to do so unless we get it scrapped.

The three pillars described above are now all enshrined in law, in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. If we want to start unpicking this murderous regime, we need to get those clauses repealed. I suspect the biggest challenge here is to get it on the parliamentary agenda as soon as possible – and then pressure Tory backbenchers to rebel. With the government’s position so weak, and the political climate turning in favour of stronger protections, I wouldn’t fancy their chances.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


23