It is now just over one month since the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The newspaper front pages have turned their attention back to Brexit and the alarming idea that the next Doctor Who will be a woman. While the country (and our politicians) get on with their lives, the outrage once directed at ‘The Establishment’ has faded and the ‘Day of Rage’ has long been forgotten. For the survivors of Grenfell Tower however it is a different story.
I felt incredibly angry last week after viewing a video shared by BBC News on Facebook. The video was of a man and his daughter who had made their home in London after fleeing their country due to war. The little girl, no older than seven, broke down in tears on camera as she said: ‘They should give people the homes they want’. Her father explained that whilst they had been offered accommodation by Kensington and Chelsea Council, this accommodation was unsuitable – far too cramped for one person let alone two and miles away from the girl’s school. The girl sobbed as she recounted how and her father had lost everything in the fire and how she had been separated from her friends. She does not even know if some of her friends made it out of the blaze alive. To face such a tragedy as an adult would be deeply upsetting – it is unbearable imagining the same situation from the perspective of a young child.
However, the outpouring of sympathy towards the survivors of the tragedy first seen in the days immediately following the fire seems to have given way to anger – anger directed at those who have lost everything rather than anger at the system of bureaucracy and the lack of accountability which led to the tragedy in the first place. Comments left under the video ranged from ‘Maybe if they had got a job they wouldn’t have had to live in social housing in the first place’; to ‘We don’t get free houses off the council so why should they?’; and ‘Why don’t they go back to their own country?’. The comments numbered in their hundreds –almost all of them were attacks on the man and his daughter for daring to ask for suitable accommodation that met their needs.
It is no secret that Britain, and London especially, is in the throes of a housing crisis. So when did we stop believing that everyone should have the right to have a roof over their heads? A roof that is dry, warm and safe; a roof under which to raise a family. Many of those leaving comments on the video expressed sentiments that they worked full-time jobs in order to keep a roof over their heads. That may be true, and of course work should always be rewarded, however in a world of precarious employment where employers are happy to hire and fire at will or leave desperate workers sitting by their phone desperate for a text message telling them there is work available for them today, it is all too easy to find yourself without a stable job and home.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy was not a tragedy that happened in isolation. Losing one’s home could happen to any of us. The response however varies markedly depending on whether those who have lost their home are the ‘deserving’ or the ‘undeserving poor’. As Labour Party members, and indeed as the elected officials who represent the former residents of Grenfell Tower in Kensington and Chelsea Council and in Parliament, it is up to us to make the case that everyone should have the right for a suitable and safe home, regardless of their country of birth or income.