Today’s (14 June 2017) tragic fire which engulfed the Grenfell Tower Block in flames — in which 12 people died (with more expected) — and 68 others were injured (with 18 in a critical condition) — highlights the huge divides that exist between rich and poor in this country.
The badly neglected and dangerous council block is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington — one of the wealthiest areas in the country. In 2007 The Guardian reported that the average income was £100,000 — and the average price of a house in the borough is £4.3 million. The borough is well-known to house international millionaires and billionaires. On one street: Kensington Palace Gardens, properties regularly go on sale for £100 million. The street houses Saudi princes, and members of the Russian oligarchy such as Roman Abramovich, Leonard Blavatnik and Lakshmi Mittal.
Yet, this borough has clear and deep divides along the lines of wealth and inequality — in a way it is a microcosm of the UK as a whole and today that microcrosm exploded infront of our eyes.
Residents who live close by to the millionaires and billionaires live in some of the worst conditions in the country. In the poorer areas of Kensington, child poverty is reported to be as high as 43%. Compare this to one of the most affluent areas in the borough where it is just 7%. In the Notting Dale ward, where the Tower is located we can see that residents ranked their health as the worst in the borough according to the area’s 2011 census report.
The report says:
Overall, Kensington and Chelsea is ranked first in England and Wales for the percentage of residents that as-sess their health as very good (57.8 per cent compared to 50.5 per cent in London).In Notting Dale 44.1 percent of residents assess their health as very good and 32.6 per cent selected good health.6.7 per cent of residents assess their health asbad (ranked 1st) and 2.3 per cent as very bad (ranked 3rd).This is higher than the London average (3.7 per cent and 1.2 per cent).
After years of battling with the private company supposedly “looking after” and responsible for the maintenance of the block: the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO) — on behalf of the borough. Warnings from pleading residents — seemingly all but ignored — are now clearly validated.
Other properties managed by the KTCMO also recently caught on fire, CNN reports that:
In October 2015 a fire ripped through another KCTMO property, the nearby 14-story Adair Tower in North Kensington, a “serious incident” according to official reports “which resulted in 16 residents requiring hospital treatment for the effects of smoke inhalation.”After the Adair Tower fire, KCTMO had been issued with two enforcement motives to install “self-closing devices on all flat entrance doors” and review communal staircases and ventilation in the lift lobbies to ensure staircases are “available for use by residents and attending fire crews.”According to minutes of a KCTMO board meeting in November 2016, works to address the issues raised in the enforcement notices had been completed.The minutes also show that the management company put its fire policy and strategy under review across all of its housing stock.It raised the need for a “more proactive approach” to fitting self-closing doors, to increase the frequency of fire risk assessments, and to address the issue of “hoarders” — residents who accumulate materials in their apartments.
This is the saddest reality that we all need to face. Whether it be terrorism or this kind of tragedy, we are seeing time and time again that these events could’ve been prevented.
The Tories cuts to our public services — such as closing down fire stations, sucking the money out of the NHS, slashing police numbers all add to OUR risk — and the increasingly tragic consequences of their austerity agenda and hatred of the working class and poor.
Once again, the Tories were warned about the danger their actions pose to our safety. Once again — as the former London May Boris Johnson illustrates here: telling those who challenge Tory fire station cuts to “get stuffed” — they flippantly dismissed our warnings.
These death are not inevitable — they are the result of many things, but the one thing that really sticks in my head – is that the voices of the poor and the hard working public sector professionals who help to keep us safe and run our country — these vital voices — the real voices of the country have been repeatedly, dismissed and fatally ignored.
The Tories have cut our public services to the point at which they are in total crisis — now we see the results — and they did it all to give tax breaks to billionaires — those living a matter of minutes away from the poor people who died in today’s tragic blaze.
To die in your home — literally the one place you should feel safe — after spending years in fear and after warning authorities that something like this would happen, says so much about the state of our country. Unless you’re part of the rich you can go and fucking die for all the Tories care. You simply don’t matter.
This is the reality — our voices don’t count – or at least, up until Corbyn they have been ignored and marginalized.
The MSM expressed deep shock over the fact that Kensington had just (by a tiny majority) turned Labour at last week’s GE — but that’s because they forgot that people in this borough need the kind of help that Corbyn’s offering.
The borough which contains such vast inequalities — as is sadly — fatally demonstrated here, needed/needs someone to listen to them — today the whole country can see what happens when you ignore the voices of the poor and our public service professionals.
I would like to offer my sympathies to the victims of this horrific event. As with many other horrific events (which more can and SHOULD have been done to prevent), it is members of the general public (the people who really run this country) who have sprung into action to help: a JustGiving fundraising page has already been started for the families and has so far raised £368,332 from over 100,000 donations.
If you can help then, please do, but we mustn’t forget these kinds of shocking events are the result of systemic, ongoing failure, and that only systemic change will see anything other than a sticking plaster over the problem and save lives in the future.
That we live in a country in which people buy houses for over £100 million and then a few streets away we have people so poor that they cannot afford to move out of a council block for fear that they will burn to death in it, should shame us all. That those people did burn to death in one of the worst blazes seen in modern times, after warning and pleading with the authorities is a national scandal. That the emergency services have been cut so badly that they are barely able to deal with these crises, is yet another scandal.
These people — like so many others living in terrible, dangerous conditions in our country needed decent housing. It’s as simple as that. The Tories punish us all on multiple levels unless we are part of the ultra wealthy.
Everybody deserves to feel safe in their home — regardless of income — end off.