“I didn’t know I was poor until I saw the media coverage of the fire.”
Tasha, my youthful Justice4Grenfell campaign colleague, felt that way because she had lived in social housing all her life.
Those who died in Grenfell Tower were clearly victims of a system that failed to prioritise the safety of poorer citizens, but in highlighting this, it seems the media quickly defined the residents as all being marginalised and poor. As Grenfell Tower remained ablaze, the media told the world that the residents who lived there had a history of illegal subletting, it was overrun with illegal immigrants, they were all poor, unemployed, benefit claimants and that most were unable to speak English. The risk here is that this one-dimensional portrayal has evoked images of tenants living in social housing having hopeless lives. This image perplexed our community, who knew that 14 of the properties in the tower were privately owned by leaseholders; there were civil engineers, teachers, architects, business owners, private renters, artists, nursery workers, hospital porters, the list goes on. In reality, the former residents of Grenfell were a diverse community whose lives and homes were full of purpose, meaning, work and pride, and in many ways just as rich as those who inhabit the townhouses of Kensington and Chelsea…
This week at the Inquiry, we heard further evidence from fire fighters who attended Grenfell Tower on the 14th June 2017 and also evidence from the control room staff.
There were many issues that came up this week, including problems with the water pressure that has been described by some only as powerful as “a garden hose”.
Here are some questions that we believe the Inquiry should have asked this week:
- Do you think the training that you received was sufficient to enable you to respond to Grenfell fire adequately?
- Following the inquest into Lakanal House fire in 2009, did the Department for Communities and Local government publish consolidated national guidance in relation to the “stay put” principle and it’s interaction with the “get out and stay out” policy?
- What impact has the fall in funding to local fire and rescue authorities, especially the loss of specialist fire safety posts, had on the provision of an effective fire service ?
- How did the water pressure impact on your ability to manage this fire?
Matt Wrack is the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.
The Fire Brigades Union stands side by side with the North Kensington community as the terrible agonies of 14 June 2017 are replayed at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The public is looking at the events unfolding, clearly wanting to know the truth, but also expecting like us, that the years of de-regulation, risk-taking and cost-cutting are to come to an end.
We want to see a complete and total ban of flammable cladding. It is shocking that more than a year after the Grenfell Tower fire that this killer material is still in use. We want to see an end to the privatization of the fire safety inspection regime which has driven down standards. It has created a system where private, uncertified inspectors rubber-stamp building works as they have to win the repeat business of building owners.
What is shocking and sickening is that a year after the fire, people are still not re-housed. A year on we have hundreds of buildings with the same cladding. A year on nothing has really been done. Imagine if this had been a terror attack. Any such attack – even with far fewer deaths – would have resulted in much greater action. Theresa May would probably have invaded a country by now.
But since this is 72 people who died in their own homes, we just see inaction and continued complacency.
The Fire Brigades Union stands side by side with the North Kensington community and with the bereaved, the survivors and other residents affected by the fire. We want the entire labour movement to stand with us and to ensure Grenfell becomes a central political issue which we do not allow to be brushed under the carpet. More than anything we need to achieve justice for Grenfell.
By Matt Wrack
The community living in Grenfell tower was representative of London in it’s wonderful diversity. Like many, I have been moved by the stories of people from all over the world who had made London their home and gave this city their hard work, love and solidarity. I, too, have been shocked by this devastating fire and the loss of so many lives, but I have also been amazed by the extraordinary spirit of community and togetherness that came out of it.
When marching with survivors on the anniversary of the fire on the 14th of June this year, some of whom lost friends or family members, I felt nothing but utter admiration for the courage and solidarity they showed.
The very least I expected from the Government after this tragedy, was for them to ensure that those who lost their homes were rehoused, that tower block residents across the country would be safe, and that the survivors and bereaved families could have full confidence in the ongoing public inquiry.
Over a year after the tragedy, only 39% of households have been rehoused permanently and the same cladding is still used in 470 high-rise blocks across the country, turning a tragedy into an outright scandal.
An Inquiry has finally been called, the first part of which started at the beginning of June. After strong public pressure and a hard-fought campaign by survivors and bereaved families, the Prime Minister agreed that a panel of experts with decision-making powers should be appointed to sit alongside Sir Martin Moore-Bick. It was a very obvious requirement and I wish that families who had lost a loved one would have been left to grieve instead of being made to fight for fairness.
I have since been approached by members of the Grenfell community and they have one more request. They want assurances that they will all be heard, no matter where they come from or if they have the right papers. They want to be consulted about an event that changed their lives forever. They want justice.
By Kate Osamor MP – Kate Osamor is the MP for Edmonton and the Shadow Secretary of State for International Develeopment.
As the Grenfell Inquiry enters it’s second month, each day and with every witness, we understand more the full extent of what actually took place on June 14th 2017. We have seen firefighters breakdown in tears as they describe the impossible situation they were in and the unimaginable sights they witnessed.
We are, of course, all united in our support and admiration for the brave men and woman firefighters who entered the Grenfell Tower that night in order to save lives. But let us never forget the work of the control workers who took the emergency calls on that evening, and who although not physically present, nevertheless experienced the horrors of that night in the same way as the firefighters.
This week the first of the control workers to give evidence at the inquiry has taken the stand. As with previous witnesses, they will no doubt conduct themselves with dignity and pride. Many of the control workers on the night of Grenfell took multiple calls and would have heard unimaginable and extremely harrowing calls.
Lets hope the control workers receive the same respect and admiration shown to them as the firefighters have so far.
By Lucy Masoud – London Fire Brigade’s Union Treasurer & Head of FBU Discipline