19 June 2020
On June 14th 2017 a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, resulting in the deaths of seventy two people. The memories of that disaster are still raw, and across the UK people have been coming together to remember the lives cut short, and to demand answers as to how this could have happened.
It is heart-breaking that it took a disaster such as Grenfell for councils across the UK to look at their local housing and ask whether it was safe. In 2017 there were 450 other high-rises around the UK clad in the same material that caused the fire to spread so rapidly at Grenfell, around two-thirds in London. Three years on, only 127 have had their cladding removed. Rydon, the company responsible for installing the dangerous material in Grenfell is also responsible for maintenance on two contracts for Islington Council managing more than 6000 homes.
Three years on, there have been no arrests; no one has been held accountable. Kensington and Chelsea, the borough where the fire took place, is one of the richest boroughs in the UK. Yet chronic under-investment in local housing created a situation where the safety of the poorest in the borough just wasn’t a consideration. Moreover, the overwhelmingly majority of those who died were ethnic minorities, with the battle for equal access to housing for BME communities still being fought through decades of campaigning.
It is a stain on the Conservative government that the corruption and failures which lead to Grenfell are still not being tackled across the UK. Social housing stock has plummeted in the last thirty years, austerity has destroyed local authority budgets – with Islington alone losing 70% of its central government funding since 2010 – while in the aftermath of the tragedy the Conservatives voted against a bill that would have legislated that homes be made fit for human habitation, arguing that the legal right to live in a safe environment was ‘unnecessary regulation’.
Justice4Grenfell is a community-led organisation, not affiliated to any party, campaigning for accountability, to remember the tragedy, honour those who lost their lives and those who survived the carnage, and so that this disaster never happens again.
The systemic attitude of the authorities to the people who live in social housing is one of classism and racism. Only by standing together will we change this. The fight for justice is still ongoing.