Custom Search 1

Why was Grenfell, "A disaster waiting to happen"?

COLLECTIVE GRIEF: A man lays flowers outside Notting Hill Methodist Church in memory of the dead

THE TV footage showed a sea of black, Arab and Muslim faces. Dark-skinned people mourning the loss of their loved ones and their homes.

As one of the protesters who lost her friend said on the steps of Kensington town hall, “No-one cares, because she’s black and she’s Muslim”.

What were the factors behind one of the greatest disasters in the United Kingdom’s modern history, notwithstanding the underlying of structural inequality of issues of class social and race?

There were three key issues. Firstly, tower block housing, secondly, the withdrawal of the state from housing provision and thirdly, the increasing shortage of housing for the less well-off.

We have been reminded by the media that there are 4000 tower blocks in the UK. Why have the less well-off been housed in boxes piled on top of each other up to great heights? Tower blocks are a form of dehumanised housing favoured by architects and politicians in the post war period up to the 1970s. Neighbourhoods and communities were destroyed across Britain to enable tower blocks to house people on an inhuman scale.

Why were people housed vertically- and not horizontally? An inferno of the magnitude we have just witnessed could not happen in low-rise housing.

Complaints by those living in the tower blocks have long been ignored. Leaks, condensation, cracks, stains all combine to make maintenance difficult. Tower blocks make complaints easier to be ignored. They are good for crowd control, preventing unrest and preventing street life, unless, of course, your street is in the sky.

Modern architects have promoted high rise living with a messianic zeal. Their guru, Le Corborbusier, adored these plain concrete monolithic structures. He even said, "...Decoration is suited to simple races, peasants and savages".

The post-1980 neo-liberal consensus is that the state withdraws from obligations of housing provision. So, councils stop building social housing, the existing social housing was sold off. This is coupled with a belief in minimal regulation of standards. In essence the state contracts out the management of social housing. Thus, if you complain about your housing you complain to an organisation with no democratic accountability. Furthermore, you are quite likely to be threatened with legal action (as Grenfell residents say they were) if you continue to complain.

The less well-off can be housed in the sky and ignored until there is a disaster, such as Grenfell.

Thirdly, the primary aim of housing policy of many cities has been to commodify housing in order to ensure it is ripe for takeover by the better off. 'Regeneration' is the spin for gentrification, the removal of the less well-off from areas of London, their housing 'beautified' and sold off. Some call it 'class cleansing'. Hence there is less and less housing for those in need.

Is this all part of a wider set of policies? It is undeniable that much of economic policy in recent years has resulted in the distribution of wealth upwards.

Will councils and the state now spend more on providing for need rather than profit? How many more people must perish before our Tory government realises that cuts cost lives?

Read every story in our hardcopy newspaper for free by downloading the app.

Facebook Comments