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Grenfell Tower Fire and the Issue of Social Class, Poverty and Power

Grenfell Tower Fire and the Issue of Social Class, Poverty and Power -

On the June 14th 2017 at Grenfell Tower a 24-story, 220-foot (67 m) high building in North Kensington, West London a fire broke out; claiming 79 fatalities and leaving over 70 injured.

The building itself is owned by a local council that’s legally obligated to provide housing for people who are homeless or to those who qualify for social housing. Despite the building housing low-income residents, many of whom are largely from North African population or immigrants to the UK from Sudan, Eritrea, and Syria; it is located in the famously Kensington area of London potentially inconveniently.

The desirable location of this building enabled approximately 20 percent of the units in Grenfell Tower to be rented at more expensive rates. As a result of more units being rented at a higher rate, Grenfell Tower’s not-for-profit manager (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization) were incentivized to attract wealthier tenants. This included major renovating to the existing property, and primarily incorporating cladding to the façade.

Investigators have not yet confirmed what kind of cladding was used on Grenfell Tower’s renovations, however the Guardian had reported that an inexpensive and flammable material was used. The face-lift took place in 2014, costing, approximately £8million ($12 million USD) and concentrated predominantly on aesthetics.

In an attempt to make it “appealing” and presumably less offensive of an eye sore to the its wealthy neighbors. The facts relating to the fire are still being confirmed and Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry into the fire.

Among the countless frantic uncovering of misdemeanors, are theories of social cleansing and suggestions that the fire was in fact, not an accident. Media coverage of this conspiracy theory has been limited; understandably so as the focus has been meeting the immediate needs of the displaced residents.

However, BBC News did manage to interview Peaky Saku, who witnessed the fire as he returned home, and didn’t mince his words when expressing his opinions. Among some of his claims was one of social cleansing.

Mr. Saku was filmed live by a BBC correspondent saying, “This thing they’re saying about it being a fridge that exploded, I don’t know about that but what I do know is that they did regeneration to that building, £10 million…..and put these shoddy plastic things on it, that set alight because they want more reasons to knock these blocks down.”

He went on to explain, “There’s two options, they can either regenerate the blocks or knock them down…so I’m not sure that was totally an accident.”

The dictionary definition of Social Cleansing is, “The large-scale removal from an area of members of a social category regarded as undesirable.” Presently, there is no evidence to support his acquisitions; however, are such claims truly far-fetched? Or are we being blindsided by “facts”? How convenient or profitable for its owners would it have been for this building to just disappear? Are there attempts to push the poor out of London’s best postcodes?

“The large-scale removal from an area of members of a social category regarded as undesirable.”

And even if these insinuated acquisitions are false, one thing we can ascertain is a point made by the rapper and poet Akala who claimed that poverty played a role in the fatalities. Speaking with Chanel 4 news he said, “The people who died and lost their homes – this happened to them because they are poor.”

He continued on with, “We are in one of the richest spaces not just London but in the world. Repeated requests were ignored. There is no way that rich people would be living in a building without adequate fire safety.” Watch the full interview below…

Despite deliberations of baleful motives, greed, human differences and hate, this tragedy has shown us – as have all the other tragedies in recent times – that humanity surfaces in the time of need.

We are all more similar than we are different; the fire exposed this reality (yet again) displaying the human spirit; with communities uniting in efforts to provide urgent support and relief to victims. We saw people in the immediate area and from across London rallying to assist. The response saw gatherings of all ages, ethnicities and social classes come together. From helping to finding missing residents, donating food, water and clothes, to simply lending a helping hand, people truly came together. Refreshingly, among much of the praise, Muslims were also acknowledged. The fire being in the month of Ramadan, Muslims who awoke for nightly prayers and suhoor (early pre-dawn breakfast), alerted their sleeping neighbors, and ultimately helped to save lives. Many Muslim charities working alongside other charities, helped provide night iftar for fasting residents, volunteers and helpers. The limited but ostensible media coverage of the Muslim relief efforts felt like medicine in a time where Muslims are all but reduced to terror suspects.

The Grenfell fire has left in its wake many unanswered questions not only in relation to how and why the fire took place but also questions about social class, poverty, privilege and the cost of lives. These questions won’t be answered by the public inquiry or the fire report; but they will forever be etched in the minds of everyone affected. The charcoaled shell still standing in the heart of London is a daily reminder of the class divide we live in despite claiming to be a “developed” and “civilized” society, and perhaps it’s also a signal to the sinister times we live in.

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Grenfell Tower Fire and the Issue of Social Class, Poverty and Power -

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