Anniversary of Grenfell Tower Fire Passes, Has the UK Government Done Enough?
As the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower passes, did the UK government do enough to help survivors and prevent more fires?
The 14th of June marked a year since the fire in Grenfell Tower, London, which killed 72 people and destroyed 203 households. The horrific fire broke out at 1 AM on a Wednesday and consumed the whole building and burned for hours, with residents trapped inside. The fire wasn’t under control until 1 AM the following day.
The fire sent a wave of anger across Britain when it was revealed that the building went up in flames so easily because of a combustible cladding (a form of insulation) that was inside it.
The community had raised concerns about the cladding but was continually ignored as the cost was deemed too expensive to repair considering the state of austerity across the U.K.
Last March, eight months after the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower, reports showed that out of the 160 other social housing blocks that were built with the same flammable cladding only seven have had the necessary work done to make them safe.
It wasn’t until May of 2018 that Prime Minister Theresa May pledged £400 million to remove combustible cladding from housing associations. May also claimed that 103 buildings had commenced the work to remove the cladding.
John Healey, the Labor shadow housing secretary, remarked: “It’s welcome, but why on earth has it taken the prime minister 11 months to make this commitment? Almost a year on from the Grenfell Tower fire, over 300 other tower blocks have dangerous, Grenfell-type cladding, but only seven have had it replaced.”
Others accused May’s pledge of just being a publicity stunt as the anniversary of the tragedy was coming up or too little too late.
Lost Homes and Anger
While those who lost their homes were placed in temporary or emergency accommodation, the building they had lived in for years was left uncovered for almost four months. Residents reported as suffering distress from this and questioning why it was not covered over sooner.
“My Nan wakes up in the morning and sees, y’know, her son’s graveyard,” said one community member to the BBC.
Mental health professionals estimate that the number of people suffering from psychological trauma as a direct result of the fire could be in the thousands, but the Kensington and Chelsea Council still remain inactive.
Fortunately, local faith organizations came in to help and give materials and emotional support to those in need. In a report that was carried out to find what residents thought about how the government had responded to the situation an interviewee responded:
“The council collapsed. Groups like St Helen’s church, the ClementJames center, and the Westway center became the local government, as people lost trust in the council.”
Much of this distrust and loss of faith was caused by Theresa May visiting the scene and talking to the response unit teams but refusing to meet with any of the victims of the fire. At the time this was dismissed by the Defense minister Tobias Ellwood, who said it was due to “security concerns.”
However, the survivors were met by the Queen and Prince William on June 16, 2017, and although the prime minister has still not met with them she has apologized saying her actions ‘were not good enough.’
In May 2018, the prime minister addressed the issue through an open letter which said –
“What I did not do on that first visit, was meet the residents and survivors who had escaped the blaze… But the residents of Grenfell Tower needed to know that those in power recognized and understood their despair… And I will always regret that by not meeting them that day, it seemed as though I didn’t care… That was never the case.”
But the level of care given is still in question as data from an investigation by FullFact.org revealed a still dire situation for survivors of the tower. FullFact found that of the 203 households from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk, 83 are now living in a permanent home while 52 are in temporary accommodation. The other 68 are living in emergency accommodation which consists of either hotels, serviced apartments or a few that live with their friends or family.
The majority of residents still don’t have a stable, consistent place to live and they don’t know when they’ll get one.
“Justice, reparation, these words are really meaningless without fundamental change. Grenfell can represent a turning point in history, a change in how society views communities that live in social housing, that they are listened to and respected. Because had we been listened to and respected at Grenfell, it would not have happened,” one survivor said to the BBC.
Another politician called Grenfell the most horrific event in Britain since WWII. To help survivors of the Grenfell Tower, visit Grenfell United to learn how you can help.