Housing

Sadiq Khan says Shadwell fire homelessness ‘illustrates problems of overcrowding in London’

Survivors of the fire, which revealed 18 men were living in one flat, became homeless in the wake of the fire after their emergency accommodation ended

London mayor Sadiq Khan. Image: Mark Thomas/Shutterstock

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said the fatal fire in a Shadwell flat where 18 men were living illustrates the problems of overcrowding in the capital.

Overcrowding in London will continue without significant government intervention, Khan said, arguing £4.9bn could solve the problem.

At least 18 people were crammed into a three-room flat in Shadwell when a fire broke out on 5 March, killing one resident, Mizanur Rahman.

Residents were paying up to £100 a week and living in cramped conditions, with bunk beds squeezed into rooms, and sharing one toilet.

Tower Hamlets council is carrying out a criminal investigation into the fire, having spent over £100,000 on temporary accommodation for the survivors.

Describing it as a “horrible case” where “there could have been more than 16-plus fatalities”, Khan said: “I think this illustrates the problems of overcrowding in London.”

But he said the situation in the capital, where as many as 15% live in overcrowded properties, would continue without government intervention.

“For the foreseeable future, I’m afraid, overcrowding is going to carry on. We’ve said to the government, if we had £4.9bn a year, we could solve this. We receive a sixth of that.” 

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The survivors were in temporary accommodation provided by the council, but became homeless after this ended. The Big Issue understands a number have been living in a squat since the end of April, while others have left the country or found accommodation.

However, a number are set to move into accommodation provided in London by the Church of England.

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Speaking in April, as the survivors’ council-provided hotel accommodation ran out, Khan said a rent freeze, along with increased housing supply, would improve the situation.

“The average rent increase is about 20% over the last year. People can’t afford to make ends meet, they become overcrowded, sharing with somebody else or rough sleeping. 

“So we’re saying to the government, if you froze rents for the next two years, that’d save the average private renter £3,000, would stop the pipeline of new rough sleeping and new overcrowding.”

Khan was speaking to The Big Issue ahead of the publication of his book Breathe, which charts his efforts to reduce air pollution in London.

The full interview will be available in next week’s Big Issue magazine, available on the streets from Monday 29 May.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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