Grenfell: One Year On
Every time I think about what happened on that awful night one year ago in one of the richest cities in the world, my stomach turns and my heart skips a beat. I am well aware that truly horrible things happen all around the world on a daily basis, but there is something about the Grenfell Disaster that just won’t shift for me. I just cannot seem to get my head around the fact that a tower block full of human beings was able to be engulfed by flames and burn to a cinder in London, ‘the city of dreams’, while we all watched on in silent desperation. Today I will be exploring what happened, why I believe it happened and where we are with the situation one whole year later.
The Grenfell Tower fire was one of Britain’s biggest ever tower block fires that occurred on the night of 14th June 2017, killing 72 people and leaving hundreds homeless. Grenfell Tower was a 24-storey block of social housing flats in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, West London – an area known for its affluence, being a ‘Royal’ borough after all. It was situated in a mainly working class housing complex, surrounded by wealthy neighbours on all sides, and homed ethnic minority working-class people on each of its floors.
Funnily enough (or probably no coincidence at all actually), in 2016 the building underwent renovations worth £8.7million. You would think this money would have been used to ensure the building was made as safe, accessible and as disaster-proof as possible for its residents; however, what has actually come to light is that these millions and millions of pounds were actually used mainly to improve the aesthetics of the building from the outside, in order to not be offensive to the eyes of the rich who had no choice but to see it when they looked out of their windows. According to the inquiry that is currently underway, the speculations regarding the cladding on the building (among others) have been confirmed – that a more flammable cladding was used in the refurbishment, saving the council £300,000; a saving which ironically and ultimately led to the loss of many beautiful, innocent lives and the destruction of the lives and minds of many more.
Why did it happen?
I think the Grenfell Disaster perfectly highlights the sheer evil and ugliness of austerity, and for me certainly shows of how little value the lives of working-class people are to the Government and the elite. For many years now the British Government has been making the lives of the working-class as difficult as hell: slashing benefits, imposing fines wherever they possibly can and ensuring that people find it almost impossible to live on the national minimum wage. Theresa May’s government has taken that to the next level since they came into power, and with all of this emphasis on the ‘problems of immigration’, I find it no surprise that the Grenfell disaster – to a tower block full of poor immigrants – actually happened.
Some may call me cynical, but when you look at the facts you can’t deny that the odds were stacked against the residents of Grenfell Tower. Not only was this block in an area reserved for the rich, but also the entire tower was riddled with safety concerns – concerns which were openly voiced by the residents to the local council, but which fell on deaf ears. What I will say is that something like this would never happen to a block of luxury housing with white, wealthy residents living within it – and it just shows that even in first world, 21st century Britain, some lives are simply much more precious than others. Welcome to Britain: the country that murders you just for being poor.
One year on – what’s happening now?
Under human rights law, the UK government has a responsibility to investigate deaths that may have been caused by failings of the state and ensure that those affected can participate, and so because of this, after much public pressure, the Grenfell inquiry formally began at the end of May.
So far, the government has agreed to fund the removal of all existing unsafe cladding on high-rise blocks across the UK but has yet to commit to banning flammable cladding outright. I look forward to seeing them deliver on that promise, but who knows when that will be. After all, those who lost their homes in the blaze have a right to be properly rehoused, but a whole year later there are 72 families who were directly affected by the fire still living in emergency accommodation.
I understand that those who were pushing for a public inquiry are seeking justice for what happened and for the lives lost and destroyed, but to seek justice from the powers that created this heart wrenching situation in the first place is beyond me. What I do hope will come from this however is the remembrance of those that lost their lives and a celebration of their lives and individual stories. With every part of me I pray that something like this never, ever happens again but I cannot guarantee that it won’t; not when society is as divided as it is in modern day Britain.
Right now I don’t really see a solution. As the poor struggle to survive, as immigrants are continually dehumanised and as the divides continue to get bigger, what I do see is Grenfell happening over and over again every single day, in one way or another. The power lies with each and every one of us – to become aware, to see the world through conscious eyes and to not allow ourselves to be divided and conquered. Maybe when we all choose to change on an individual level, the social change that we are all seeking will come.
Please join me in sending love to all of those affected by the Grenfell disaster and praying that they all find the peace they deserve.
First published in Defi Media Group’s News on Sunday, Mauritius.