Grenfell Tower: for how long will we ignore society’s most vulnerable?
In our society, it seems that some lives matter more than others. Vulnerable and disadvantaged people who have merely been born in the wrong place or situation suffer for circumstances they cannot control. When will we stop ignoring the parts our population that needs our help the most?
The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower is symptomatic of how our government is failing vulnerable people. It also highlighted the many problems within the social housing system in the UK. However, the underlying problem that Grenfell has highlighted is that disadvantaged people are increasingly made more disadvantaged by society. In Grenfell Tower, an estimated 80 people lost their lives because the building they lived in was not “worth” prioritising in terms of refurbishments and safety, and countless more have been displaced because their homes were destroyed. Funds allocated for refurbishment were used to install cladding across the building for purely aesthetic purposes, following multiple complaints from richer residents that the tower was a local eyesore, which due to the cladding’s flammable nature, catalysed the inferno that engulfed the building.
Many of the people who live in social housing are disadvantaged and vulnerable because of situations they cannot control. These are people such as refugees, immigrants, single parents, and people who are unemployed for various reasons. People who are in these groups are already struggling in many ways, and often face discrimination on several levels in society. In the case of social housing in Grenfell Tower, it boils down to the fact that not even their home – what is usually a safe haven for most – could protect them. The residents in Grenfell Tower were not safe in their homes because the appearance of the building’s exterior was prioritised over the safety of the interior.
For most residents of Grenfell, like other social housing estates, the only choice they have is social housing. This means that even if you know that your home is not safe, you have to choose between that or be homeless. Residents of Grenfell repeatedly reported safety issues, including electrical failures and the lack of fire sprinklers, but their pleas were ignored. Complaints from richer residents about the building’s appearance were prioritised, it appears. The government and councils in charge of providing safe social housing betrayed the people of Grenfell Tower.
Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP, wrote a public letter to Prime Minister Theresa May expressing his deep concern over the ‘decision to exclude broader social and political issues raised by the fire’ in the public inquiry, highlighting that it had ‘raised profound concerns about the way that social housing is provided and managed’. He stated that excluding these issues showed her ‘priority is to avoid criticism of your party’s policy failures rather than secure justice for Grenfell survivors’.
Of course, housing is only one of the areas in which people are let down by the government when they are in difficult situations. Education, employment and cultural participation are also other areas where disadvantaged people are deprived of the same experience and support as people who are better off. They seem to get less support, while they are the ones who need it the most.
At JAN Trust, we work to support disadvantaged women in our local community. We believe that all people, no matter their circumstances in life, deserve support and help to live safe and fulfilling lives. Therefore, we offer classes and other support to BAME and vulnerable women. Our consistent work has helped women leave abusive relationships, economically empower themselves, and become productive members of society. To learn more and support our work, visit www.jantrust.org