The shock and grief, the outpouring of emotions from anger, sadness and depair is what we are all experiencing. The full scale of this appalling tragedy at the #Grenfell fire leaves us numb. Those responsible are trying to shift opinion in order to avoid blame. Some criticise people by saying they are politicisng this tragic event. But the cause of this event was indeed political – austerity. For that reason it is inherently politicised. It was only this week when Theresa May admitted that austerity was unnecessary, avoidable, a political choice. In that, they are culpable and their actions inexcusable. They will not avoid blame; justice will be done.
There needs to be a full inquest regarding these deaths, not merely an enquiry, where in years to come evidence goes missing or locked away for 80 years
Britain was shocked yesterday at the sight of Grenfell Tower, a block of flats that housed as many as 600 people in West London, engulfed by flames in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Since the fire, a number of shocking facts have become apparent, and Theresa May has called for a public enquiry:
- * Tower lies in the wealthiest locality in the country, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The average income is over £100,000 and the average property is sold for close to £2,000,000. David Cameron and Roman Abramovich both own a house there. The residents of Grenfell Tower are mainly working-class and ethnic minority, living in the cheapest accommodation in the borough, provided through the borough’s council, which pays KCTMO public money to manage the building. Senior managers at KCTMO earned £650,000 between them last year.
- *The residents formed an association, the Grenfell Action Group “to record our struggle and… remain as evidence for future generations of how our community has been mistreated by RBKC [the borough’s council] and its social housing management agents the Kensington & Chelsea TMO (KCTMO).” The Group raised serious concerns about fire risk following near catastrophes at other KCTMO properties but were ignored, causing them to write “[we] firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.” 90% of residents signed a petition for an investigation into KCTMO’s handling of safety concerns.
- *The residents sought legal support to force KCTMO to improve safety in Grenfell Tower, but could not afford it due to cuts in legal aid. In 2009, under Labour, England and Wales had the highest per capita spending on legal aid in the world, before Conservative austerity measures cut it.
- *£10m was spent refurbishing Grenfell Tower from 2014-16, without addressing residents’ safety concerns or installing sprinklers. Instead, cladding was added to make the building look more attractive from the outside (presumably, to richer people who lived elsewhere in Kensington). Residents were told that the building was designed in such a way that a fire in one flat would not spread to others, and therefore advised to stay in their homes in case of a fire. This proved not to be the case,possibly because the cladding was flammable.
- *In 2009, a coroner’s report into another fatal tower block fire in London recommended that the government ensure sprinklers are installed during refurbishments. In 2014, given the lack of response from government, Labour MP and former firefighter Jim Fitzpatrick, pressed this in a parliamentary debate. Conservative minister Brandon Lewis said: “Sprinklers work. We know that. No one can deny it… They are an effective way of protecting lives and property.” But he rejected the idea that the government should enforce the fitting of sprinklers, citing the need to reduce the burden of regulation. Gavin Barwell, his successor as Housing Minister, and now Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, pledged a review of building regulations in this area, but never carried it out.
- *312 Conservative MPs voted against a Labour bill last year which required landlords to make homes “fit for human habitation”. 72 of those are themselves private landlords.
- *Ten fire stations and 500 firefighters’ jobs have been cut since 2009. Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London and now Foreign Secretary, told an assembly member objecting to these cuts to “get stuffed”. The new mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, will review the cuts.
- *Thousands of ordinary people have donated money, supplies and time to help the victims of the fire, including many Islamic groups. According to witnesses and survivors, the Muslims who were awake for Ramadan prayers, having fasted all day, were crucial to raising the alarm and helping neighbours from the building.
- *As of Thursday, after decades of Conservative rule, Kensington is represented by a Labour MP (Emma Dent Coad) who has a strong record of campaigning against gentrification, for housing rights and writes a blogendorsed by the Grenfell Action Group.
- *Theresa May visited Grenfell today, but refused to speak to a single resident.
To sum up: in the richest borough in the country, poor people died in their homes, despite repeatedly warning the authorities of safety concerns and possibly as a direct result of actions taken by KCTMO. The government knew what should be done to avert such tragedies and did nothing. Cuts stopped the tragedy from being prevented through legal action or mitigated by the fire service. Those responsible remain in power. But the people are fighting back.
- Previous Posts:
- Austerity – a political choice, Times Theresa May admitted it is not necessary Jume 2017 post election
- Is the highest level of government debt justification for Austerity ? Henry Stewart
- John McDonnell speaking at the Peoples Assembly against Austerity.