By Rosie Vacciana-Browne
It is one of the biggest tragedies of our time. A social injustice birthed from the very heart of Britain’s institutions. There have been public inquiries and protests but no arrests. Why four years on are we still left asking, where is the justice for Grenfell?
On June 14th 2017, the nation woke up to the shocking news that the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block in West London was ablaze. The fire started around 1 am on the fourth floor, but as daylight broke, thick smoke was billowing up into the sky, and flames were visible from windows up to the top floor. The harrowing images etched into our memories likened to that of 9/11. It was clear that anyone who remained within the building would not have survived. But, the first reports were murky, the cause of the fire was unknown, and the death toll widely underreported. In the weeks and months that followed, what uncovered was an amalgamation of government failures at the local and national level.
The Grenfell Tower block stood in The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, looking over the wealthiest area in the UK where the average yearly salary is £65,000. It is home to the country’s rich and famous; it was also home to refugees, migrants and low-income households publically housed in Grenfell under the care of a Conservative-led council. The building had recently had a refurbishment just two years prior by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. In a bid to save £300,000, they swapped the planned zinc cladding with cheaper aluminium, a decision that cost 72 lives and destroyed hundreds more. A public inquiry has since found the cladding was the primary cause of the fire spreading. The council apologised for putting profits before people. But profits before people is what the Conservative party do.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the disparities became clear. More than just a tragic accident, Grenfell was a result of xenophobia and classism that seeps through Britain’s infrastructure. Within 24hrs of the news breaking, the local community, charities, religious groups and leader of the Labour opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, all flocked to the scene to support residents on the ground. While, in a picture all too familiar, the former Prime Minister Theresa May spent her first visit having private meetings with emergency service workers. She met no residents. It was yet another example of out of touch politics by the Conservative party, who since 2010 have implemented harsh austerity cuts that have disproportionately hit the working classes and minorities. The genetic makeup of Grenfell.
You could wonder if a private housing block with wealthy, white residents would have safety corners cut to save money. The local government was working off a script crafted by our national Tory government, who have shown us time again that black, brown and poor lives do not matter. Residents had tried to raise safety concerns around Grenfell. Just 7-months before the fire, a post posted on a community blog suggested the company running the building and the local council covered up residents’ concerns. It went on to state, “a serious fire in a tower block or similar high-density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice.” Unfortunately, not even that was enough. Four years on, it seems there have been no tangible lessons learned; and no justice gained. There have been no convictions, 700,000 buildings still have cladding similar to Grenfell’s, and as of February 2021, 7 families were still not rehoused in permanent housing. These are government failings.
One general election and a new Prime Minister later, the Tory’s are still regurgitating policies that oppress marginalised communities. They treated the Black Lives Matter protests with contempt, labelling protesters “thugs” and the protests “dreadful”. They have purposefully created a hostile environment for immigrants and wrongly deported elderly citizens during the Windrush scandal (something they have since apologised for). The divisions in this country are being exasperated by the Tory’s. Hate crimes have surged, with the number of incidences rising by 4000 from 2019-2020. This year we have seen the introduction of the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that’ll crackdown on protests in direct response to BLM. It has been accused of institutional racism as it targets the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities, and its new policies will disproportionately affect black and brown people.
Grenfell shows us the horrific results of disregarding the lives of the working classes and minorities. And in the four years that have followed, the Conservative government has continued to show us their lack of care.
If you want to support the victims of Grenfell head to https://www.grenfellunited.org.uk.