Eclectic Blue

Grenfell Tower and what it says about our country

Comments Off on Grenfell Tower and what it says about our country 14 June 2018

I’ve cribbed some statistics about the Grenfell Tower tragedy/scandal from the BBC website:

Kensington and Chelsea Council said 52 households remained in temporary accommodation and 83 are in permanent homes.
Another 68 are in “emergency” accommodation – 42 in hotels, 22 in serviced apartments, and four staying with family or friends.

On this day, the first anniversary of the fire, I realise that these are nothing more than raw statistics. But they still bother me, cause me concern, remind me of the unequal, unbalanced society in which we live.

Remember, these are households, not just individual people. People in these households have probably lost everything they ever owned. Imagine that for a moment. Forget things that are easily replaceable, think instead of the things that are not. First and foremost, the actual place in which you lived; home. The loss of friends and relatives who lost their lives. Then, those little things, the photos and trinkets and memories, all gone up in flames. And the survivors will have those awful memories of that day a year ago, when their lives changed forever.

For all I know, the officers of the council are doing a wonderful job in caring for and rehousing families and individuals. I have no evidence to the contrary. My experience of civil servants and other public sector workers is mainly of people who are committed to providing the best services they can, within the often strict limitations placed on them by ministers and senior civil servants. I can accept, too, that rehousing a large number of people must be very difficult. However, even though I don’t know the full facts, I cannot help but think that it is a local and national scandal that ‘only’ 83 households were now in permanent homes.

I do not wish to turn this into a political diatribe because it’s not the right time and anyway the entire political discourse has already been damaged by politicians like the prime minister Theresa May who reacted with incredible lethargy and seeming indifference (which she later denied) and Jeremy Corbyn’s henchman John McDonnell who declared unhelpfully that the 72 who lost their lives were “murdered by political decisions”. Yet, the fact that so many people still await permanent housing tells you a lot about our country today.

Imagine a large block of luxury private flats going up in flames, something that I would suggest is very unlikely because they would surely be better protected from the likelihood of such tragedies. Unlike the survivors of Grenfell, it is likely that survivors of luxury accommodation would be able to buy their way out of temporary and emergency housing within months, not years. But because Grenfell did not house those from the top end of our social league table, its residents are at the mercy of the authorities who may well lack the resources and perhaps ability to rehome them.

Add to this the trauma survivors must still feel. They will never forget what they saw, they will never forget the smell and they will never forget the burned out shell of Grenfell Tower. Some of them will be dealing with their terrible experience from a hotel room. Now I don’t know about you, but a couple of nights in a hotel is more than enough for me. Put yourself in an average hotel room where all you have is a bedroom, a desk, a telly and a bathroom and then think about being there for a year. That in itself would be enough for many people. I’m not sure I could do it, even without the crippling stress and trauma that they went through and are still going through.

Grenfell had a touch of the 9/11 about it, at least in terms of the terrible images which were viewed on a never ending loop. And like 9/11, this was something that surely could never happen.

The inquiry will hopefully come to conclusions that will forever prevent a repetition of what happened on that fateful day a year ago and if it concludes that individuals or even companies are to blame, then they need to be the subject of police investigations. But for now, thoughts are with the victims and the survivors. I am in no doubt that our country has let them down big time. There has been little or no leadership from the top and all the fine words of sorrow cannot cover up the scandal of how the people of Grenfell have been let down.

No one displayed from the tower should still be living in a hotel room or emergency accommodation, not least because the borough in which it stands is the wealthiest in Europe. To me, it feels like financial apartheid and is a sad and miserable reflection of your country today, divided by so many things but mainly inequality.

PS I should add that Theresa May said after the fire that survivors would be rehoused in three weeks. Politicians, eh?

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