A year ago Grenfell burned. It burned and we watched as the people stood with their heads in their hands. We watched the death toll go up. We watched the microphones being thrust in their faces. In those resident’s faces, those people left with nothing. We watched Theresa May escape in her private car. We watched while people were filed away to B&Bs, to hostels. We watched and we watched and now there are programmes and interviews and we are still watching but what are we doing for them? And not just them – what are we doing for this country’s poor?
Because this is the thing. If that had been a tower block filled with white middle class faces there would be more done. Did you know that there are still 158 high rises in the UK with the same cladding as Grenfell and that work has only just begun on removing it from 104 of these?
Did you know that there are families still not rehomed? Did you know that the same firefighters who were praised for their bravery had to share breathing apparatus because of cuts? That numbers of firefighters are being cut, that Home Office statistics show that in the year ending September 2017, there were 346 fire-related fatalities (including 71 from the Grenfell Tower fire) compared with 253 in the previous year – a 37% increase (and up 9% even without Grenfell)?
Looking wider, did you know that food banks are at breaking point? That there are children whose parents can’t afford to buy them sanitary products? Did you know drug and alcohol abuse and those with mental health conditions now outstrip those seen at any other time in this country? Even those after the Blitz?
And did you know, also that this government doesn’t give a shit?
This isn’t new. They’ve never given a shit. When you’re poor, you don’t count. When you’re poor you are patronised and left to rot. They stack you high and they make you jump through hoops for what they consider handouts. The system is stacked against you. Zero hour contracts. The gig economy. This is all shorthand for keeping people desperate.
In the days following Grenfell I got into a debate with someone I had never met on social media. I don’t often do this. It was a friend of a friend and he was claiming that no one could really understand fire regulations unless they were a landlord. Let’s be clear here. He was saying that unless you were a landlord, that is in a position where you own property and are able to also charge people for living in it, you can not hold an opinion on fire safety in tower blocks. Because this is how a certain section in our society thinks.
This is the same sort of attitude that ignored calls from the Grenfell Action Group in 2016 to their landlords, the KCTMO, on fire safety in their tower blocks
“It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!” the group wrote in 2016.
We are still waiting.