“Akala on the Grenfell Tower fire: ‘These people died because they were poor’ Rapper and poet has criticised officials over claims that there were no fire alarms and no sprinklers in the building”, Roisin O’Connor
Responding to presenter Jon Snow’s comment about spending on refurbishments for the building last year, Akala said: “It was an eyesore for the rich people who lived opposite.
“So they put panels, pretty panels on the outside, so the rich people who lived opposite wouldn’t have to look at a horrendous block.”
Particular attention has been drawn to the cladding which was added to Grenfell Tower, in part to improve its appearance, during a refurbishment last year.
A planning document for the regeneration work published in 2014 made repeated reference to “the appearance of the area” and was used as justification for the material used on the outside of the building.
Experts are now saying that the cladding may have helped spread the blaze quickly up the outside of the building.
In: Independent.co.uk, 15.6.2017
“Grenfell Tower graphic: what we know about how the fire spread Blaze spread up and across the building within minutes”, May Bulman
Some residents started to evacuate through the central fire escape stairwell – the only escape route. But others were told by emergency services over the phone to put towels around doors and stay put until help arrived. This advice has been known to work in buildings that are well compartmentalised, preventing the rapid spread of the fire from floor to floor. At Grenfell Tower, many who received this advice are likely to have died. Some who remained in their flats spoke to friends and family on the phone – the last time many were heard from.
In: Independent.co.uk, 16.6.2017
“Look at Grenfell Tower and see the terrible price of Britain’s inequality”, Lynsey Hanley
In an inner-London borough as rich as Kensington and Chelsea, social housing is at once integral – in that it forms a massive proportion of its housing stock, and houses a large number of its working residents and families – and yet invisible. This means tenants could warn, repeatedly and with escalating fear, that the building they lived in was a death trap; it meant they felt harassed and intimidated by the landlord and subcontractors during the recent renovation; and it meant, ultimately, that they would be the victims of possibly criminal levels of neglect.
I don’t doubt the current government’s involvement in this disaster, if only by implication through its reluctance to update and enforce building regulations, and its insistence on starving local authorities to the bone. The relentless enforcement of austerity as an ideology has meant that all councils now feel it is their job to spend as little as possible. This includes the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which, according to Kensington’s new Labour MP, and housing campaigner, Emma Dent Coad, has a £300m contingency fund.
However, the previous Labour government was complicit in applying the market to social assets. Not only that, it refused to counter the Thatcherite narrative that social housing and tenants were inherently problematic in a “property-owning democracy”.
Tony Blair made a point of visiting the Aylesbury, a massive south London estate, when Labour was first elected in 1997, to launch its crackdown on crime and antisocial behaviour. Although the party instigated the decent homes standard, under which the majority of social housing was modernised and refurbished between 2000 and 2010, most estates were only improved once residents had agreed to have their housing stock transferred from local authority control to a housing association or other registered social landlord. These new landlords could lever huge private grants and loans to carry out the work, while local authorities could not. Tenants and leaseholders mostly voted for stock transfer knowing it was the only way their homes would be improved.
Tower blocks are generally held to be the least popular form of housing, particularly for people raising families. Wide-eyed postwar council leaders, often in cahoots with private contractors who sold them high-rises on the basis of novelty and ease of construction, didn’t foresee the difficulty and expense of maintaining the blocks. After the Ronan Point disaster in 1968, when four people were killed after a gas explosion destroyed one side of a newly built tower block in east London, their reputation diminished further, causing people on the waiting lists to refuse them.
But that’s not to say other people don’t enjoy living there, for the astonishing views, and for their self-contained nature – which in the most successful cases creates a tight-knit community.
Problems mostly arise when housing managers fail to keep on top of repairs, safety issues, residents’ complaints and other bugbears, such as blocked bin chutes and noisy neighbours. On-site caretakers, when landlords decide they can afford to employ them, solve many of these issues. What they can’t change is the wider snobbery that has come to infect the public perception of high-rise blocks. The social makeup of Grenfell Tower revealed clearly where the combined effects of class and race inequality meet. The geographer Danny Dorling has shown that black and minority ethnic people in social housing are disproportionately housed in flats, to the extent that most black children in London and Birmingham are housed above the sixth floor. This is not to do with a shortage of housing, but is a reflection of the fact that not only are ethnic minorities more likely to be working-class by wage and occupation, but they experience discrimination – tacit or outright – when allocated housing.
Yet not everyone who lives in tower blocks is poor: since the advent of right-to-buy, many professionals – particularly in the capital, where affordable housing is at a severe premium – have become private tenants on council estates. It’s the perception of social housing, particularly high-rise , as being “for poor people” that leads to the maltreatment of residents, regardless of their class or income. If poverty is an individual moral failing, as has been relentlessly argued by those in power for nearly 40 years, then anything associated with poverty must also be a sign of second-class status. Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs are right to call for the requisition of empty homes in Kensington to rehouse locally those made homeless by the fire: such action would be a test of the government’s, and Kensington’s, willingness to acknowledge the extent of housing inequality.
Grenfell has to be the point where we recognise collectively the criminally destructive effects of Britain’s class inequality. When inequality is permitted to flourish, its effects bear down all the more on those at or near the bottom. The experience of material poverty is compounded by the assumption that you caused your own poverty through being stupid. The privileged can buy their safety, their security, their legal representation, and kid themselves that it’s because they’re clever and know the answers, so they don’t have to listen. Their wilful deafness has come to haunt them.
In: The Guardian, 16.6.2017
“Theresa May is too scared to meet the Grenfell survivors. She’s finished”, Polly Toynbee
Symbolism is everything in politics and nothing better signifies the austerity of May-Cameron-Osborne era than North Kensington’s ghastly tomb
That tomb in the sky will be forever Theresa May’s monument. Grenfell marks the spot and her visit marks the moment the last vestiges of her career were finally rubbed out. She made it her own yesterday by that fateful “visit” to a handful of senior fire officers, guarding her from any contaminating contact with the bereaved and newly homeless. Dead to emotion or empathy, she sealed her fate.
That tower is austerity in ruins. Symbolism is everything in politics and nothing better signifies the May-Cameron-Osborne era that stripped bare the state and its social and physical protection of citizens. The horror of poor people burned alive within feet of the country’s grandest mansions, many of them empty, moth-balled investments, perfectly captures the politics of the last seven years. The Cameron, Osborne, Gove Notting Hill set live just up the road.
The danger is that once this drama is over and news moves on, people get forgotten. Not this time. What a contrast was Jeremy Corbyn’s visit, hugging and embracing victims, promising to guarantee that never happens. No one could have devised a better parable to convey the difference between the two parties than those two leaders’ visits. No doubt Grenfell residents would have shouted at the prime minister – but after her hermetically sealed election campaign, this confirms that a leader who dare never meet her people is truly done for.
In: The Guardian, 16.6.2017
“London fire: ‘The working class aren’t being listened to'”, Mario Cacciottolo
“This area’s always been working class. It’s starting to become a bit less so now, and the working class are feeling that they’re being left without a voice.
“The council isn’t listening to us. We don’t want a pretty building. They should ask us ‘What do we need? or ‘What would we like?'”
Maria [Vigo] also says a desire for profits is encroaching on the lives of working-class locals.
“Properties are being built in this area that aren’t being bought by people in the local community.”
In: BBC News, 15 June 2017
“Grenfell shows just how Britain fails migrants”, Nesrine Malik
Walking through the streets of north Kensington as the media descended,it was impossible not to see the stark segregation of the victims from the infrastructure that surrounds them. It was surreal to see the tower as the neighbourhood’s other residents sat in cafes in the sunshine and walked in and out of yoga studios; to note that every member of the council being interviewed was white and middle-class, that the stories of the victims were being conveyed by a news media far removed from the daily reality of these lives. A BBC journalist apologised “on behalf” of an irate resident who swore on camera. It was a moment laden with cross cultural symbolism.
These images don’t tell the whole story, but as the hours pass they harden the view that Grenfell and the fate of those who lived there will come to stand for all the ways society has failed to provide for its most vulnerable.
Little thought goes into the conditions and daily lives of those who bring west London its exotic delicacies and eclectic vibe. They are lives that often fall on the wrong side of wealth, class, race and political capital. To be housed in towers like Grenfell is to be in a state of constant compromise in terms of quality of life and, as we see, safety. You have no options. Councils will store you as cost-effectively as possible. If life is cheap, there is no cheaper life than that of a poor migrant.
This is where the state so obviously, so disastrously, failed to protect and provide. But this is also where the local community stepped in to pick up the pieces. This is where London is truly multicultural – locals, both wealthy and council-housed, brought together by the unavoidable closeness of the tragedy.
I was reminded of life in third-world countries where citizens resigned to the state’s cynicism and indifference develop their best, most coordinated responses to disaster. We still don’t know what caused the Grenfell Tower fire. But we now know something of those whose lives have been ended or changed for ever. Our individual complacencies have led to collective failure. Isn’t this the moment to join the dots?
In: The Guardian, 16.6.2017
“What’s our priority now? Not politics but to help a neighbourhood hit by catastrophe”, Simon Jenkins
All disasters can be politicised, but it does not always help. When emotions run high, the craving is for someone to blame. When lives are lost, if not through malice then possibly through negligence, we want to point the finger. But making us somehow feel better must be beside the point. The priority is to do everything to assist a neighbourhood hit by an appalling catastrophe, and then do everything to stop the same thing happening again.
The cause or causes of the Grenfell Tower tragedy have yet to be discovered. The scale of the disaster was clearly due to the cladding used to refurbish the building. But finding someone to blame must be more complicated. Is it the manufacturer, the subcontractor, the commissioning agency, the council that certificated the building, the officials who wrote the regulation or the politician responsible for the officials? Does blame lie in the fundamental unsuitability of high-rise buildings for residential use, especially for families? Does this indicate some deeper cruelty in the divisiveness of modern urban communities?
The use of high-rise blocks for social housing adds to the risk. Tenants cannot afford to look after maintenance, and councils are under pressure to cut costs. That other high-rise towers – and low-rise terraces – in London stand empty only adds to the sense of frustration. There may be an unlimited demand for cheap housing in a booming capital, but that so much of its accommodation is unoccupied or under-occupied is understandably the cause of anger.
That said, to imply that general policies are to blame for specific disasters risks deflecting attention from the causes primarily responsible and those whose decisions may have precipitated them. There are degrees of responsibility as there are degrees of blame and perhaps degrees of penalty. The danger now is that millions of pounds are spent and years wasted as lawyers argue over grading those degrees. It is not just property management but public administration that is now on trial.
In: The Guardian, 16.6.2017