I can’t stop thinking about them. Knowing death was coming and not having a way out.
The community that is now doing so much because it could do so little will be haunted by the screams and the sights of that night. A video shown on TV today has a nano second of noise and I heard a screaming child. A second of sound now lodged in my head I cannot unhear. I sobbed when I heard it, real uncontrollable sobs. What the hell are those who heard that for so long, longing for silence but dreading it too, going through?
We are all skirting around the numbers involved, the near impossibility of anyone from those high floors escaping, the forensic nature of the recovery. We are sharing pictures, each face a loved one, a life, a world.
Being accused of politicising this event it beyond stupid. It was political from the moment Margaret Thatcher handed over the keys to the first council house sold under the “right to buy” scheme. Every one of those houses was lost to the social housing stock and not replaced. Those who were fortunate to have been rehoused in the post war building boom took a socialist idea of decent homes for all and turned it into a quick buck for themselves. I can understand that in a way. Don’t like it or condone it but it made some folks quite a bit of money so that obviously benefitted them and it was the beginning of the personal enterprise looking after number one era. It was also the real start of an obsession with home ownership.
Affordable rents bad, extortionate mortgages good.
I grew up in South London on the 11th floor of a tower block. I have never lived in a house in my life. I have been fortunate enough to have council accommodation all my adult life. I have lived in overcrowded accommodation with my family but was blessed with a move to a home with bedrooms for my children and room to live. I cried when I moved in. I cried tears of joy for having space for my children.
I did try to buy around 1996 but it fell through. I was pregnant at the time and I dreamt of giving my baby a house to live in. But things did not work out and when we were in a position to try to buy again prices were beyond us. In 1996 we were looking to buy a house for £50,000 ( three bedroom). The same house now would be in the region of £250,000 to £300,000.
There is no hope my children will get a council house. There are not enough of them and the housing stock there is either from the big build of council homes post war or new builds. The new builds arise from regeneration. That basically means you look at a housing estate and the land it’s on. You think we could make a fortune from that land. So we will neglect the homes on it. We will call the unsafe or open to criminality. We will move a succession of temporary tenants in so communities are weakened and then we will say we are knocking them down and you will get a new home. We will do a deal with a building firm you can have the land to build private accommodation you can sell for stupid amounts of money but just build some social housing for us. Then deals are done, the number of social house gets less as affordable ones are put forward. Eventually the thing is finished. The character of the area is lost, communities lost, families rehoused all over London and outside. A few get nice new houses but the rest are sold to overseas investors first. They let them sit empty or rent them so we have no people or transient tenants. And coffee bars and artist spaces and water feature abound in a gentrified environment that the locals can’t afford to use.
It is social and ethnic cleansing basically. We only want those who can afford to pay living in these new up and coming areas. They were ok for council tenants whilst they were shit holes but now it has a tube link why should they live here?
So housing stock goes down and waiting lists go up.
And we then get oh we are doing up your area so we will refurbish council stock on the cheap. So it is more appealing to the more wealthy who live here. We get the choice between fire resistant cladding or non fire resistant which is a couple of quid cheaper. We get the voices of the tenants drowned out by the you should be grateful you have a council home brigade. The I’m getting a nice little earner out of this so shut up people. The I’m going to make a killing out of this folk. Yes you did. You have made a killing of an untold obscene number of deaths in a tower block that was nothing more than a death trap.
What has got me has been those well meaning people saying they are shocked there were no fire drills, no extinguishers, no emergency lighting, no sprinklers.
No this is social housing not office space. Living in council accommodation all my life I have never once lived anywhere with those fire safety measures. After previous fires recommendations were made to fit sprinklers but that report and recommendation has been sat on by the Tory Government as it may deter investors who wanted to build houses. Also to fit it into social housing already standing is expensive.
So we have some of the most vulnerable and poorest of society living in overcrowded and unsafe conditions because of this housing lack. Children and elderly living on the highest floors of a building. In small flats crowded with family paraphernalia. All combustible, all hazards in a smoke filled room, all toxic when burning.
All of these people were trying to get their voices heard saying that the refurbishment was being done badly was ignoring safety and that it would take a major incident before people took notice of them. They were right.
We have now homeless people who do not know where they are sleeping. People who have lost every single thing they owned except what the stood up in. We have people walking the streets in search of the missing. We have those who have died yet to be found, possibly never known. We have a mental anguish not only of the community but of fire fighters, police, emergency crews, volunteers, children, adults all in need of support and counselling coming from mental health services again so underfunded for so many years it is almost piecemeal. We have people working twenty four hour shifts, coming in on days off as cuts have meant they cannot be replaced and they have not has a pay rise in years.
We have an event that is now etched into societies consciousness so deeply it will never be forgotten. We have those voices who begged to be heard now being heard loud and clear throughout the world. We have a shell of a building that will come to symbolise austerity, neglect and the de-humanising of the poor, the immigrant, the disabled by the government and the media.
We have a Prime Minister who cannot walk among the hurting community because of safety reasons. Yes I can see why you did not speak to the people Theresa. You don’t know how to as these are not your normal calibre of conversationalists. These are the everyday people you clam to represent. You don’t know that these are some of the finest people you would ever meet. You are afraid of them like a child who has broken an ornament is afraid of its parent. You know you are guilty but you hope you can sweep the pieces under the rug and no one will notice. We have not only noticed we are sharing information on what you and you like have done.
I can’t help thinking of the money avoided by the Duke Of Westminster by using loopholes to avoid inheritance tax. The refurbishment of stately homes such as Buckingham Palace and the home of Mrs Reece Mogg. I can’t help but think of the money you have given away in tax breaks and to the banks and the way you imposed austerity on all of us.
I can’t help but think of all the new social housing these millions probably billions could build. How many wage rises, safety checks, emergency services, sprinklers this could provide. And how instead of doing up the home of someone who has never had to consider how she will pay the rent we provide safe plentiful cheap affordable rentable housing so all families in this country can call home.
And safer cladding would have cost five grand.
There are so many angry people now, smashing keyboard keys, organising marches, spreading information on fund raising and donations. They are calling for answers and justice. It should be swift in coming and compete. No scapegoats and passing the buck we want to see people loose jobs and not be put in in position power again. We want this so those in authority will never silence the voices of those who are struggling to be heard, cut corners and scrimp on safety and who want to destroy the very nature of London by cleaning out all of those who can’t afford sour dough bread.
The next few days, weeks, months even will be filled with names and faces of those lost. Children who have died needlessly. We will see the grief of a community. We cannot forget them and move on to the next story. We have to support them and support the thousands of people who do deserve safe homes to live in within the areas they were born in, moved to, raised families in.
But most of all we need to change the Government as soon as we can. This one has failed and failed badly and whilst they are in power our society will never be a fair and just one. The people have awoken, their unity will win their voices will be heard.
For those who have lost their lives May you Rest in Eternal and Everlasting Peace