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When I found out what had happened, I was with my mum. We sat in silence for ten minutes before she turned to me and said, "We used to live in the borough when you were first born. In a building near there. Before we got the flat in Clapham. They were death traps then, too."
We found out not long after that 72 people had died in that fire. I wasn't nearly as close to the tragedy as many others living in London at the time. I didn't know anyone who died. My mum knew a few people who survived and no longer had a home, but it was still a very sombre, surreal day for everyone who lived even a little close to where it happened.
Today my mother, who works in elderly care, had two of her clients bring up some... colourful opinions about the fire a year on. One tried to turn it into a debate about immigration, stating that "it's strange that there was a foreign couple living there, they'd only recently moved to the UK. How'd they even get a council flat?"
The other decided that commemorating the event a year on was "milking it a bit. After all, they were all rehoused. Those who haven't have been offered housing so it's their fault."
Then we hear on the news that London is lighting its buildings and landmarks in green to 'pay respects.'
First off, not all the flats in that building were owned by the council. A lot were, but there was a scheme in place to allow people who rent them for long enough to eventually own them. I don't know if there still is, and I'm not sure how it works. I was nine when we left our council flat in Clapham, by then my mum already owned it. She rented it out to other tenants privately. This was likely also happening in Grenfell. If you move to the UK from another country, you have no chance of getting a council flat right away. Even as a UK citizen, every time my family moved somewhere new, we struggled to get flats from the council because you had to have lived in the area for a certain amount of time to even qualify the waiting list in some cases. That's part of the reason we mostly rented privately. Don't try and twist this tragedy to be about something it isn't.
They also have not all been rehoused at all. Actually, most of them haven't been. Some have been offered housing, sure. Outside of the borough. Outside of the area where their kids go to school, where their jobs are, where their lives are and have been for years in some cases. Why should they have to leave the area when this was made as horrifying as it was by poor infrastructure and a lack of care for the poorer communities in London that led to nothing being done about it for years. The council knew about the problem; they did nothing.
And guess what? They still haven't. Putting pretty lights around the tower, the surrounding buildings, the landmarks, it does absolutely nothing for the communities this tragedy devastated. All it does is allow those in power to pat themselves on the back because they performed an empty gesture to show they cared. How about banning the flammable material you used to build the tower because it was the cheapest option? How about addressing the hundreds of other complexes in the UK built out of the same material, and with the same blatant disregard for fire safety? How about finally rehousing all of the people affected by this instead of paying lip service and doing nothing?
72 people died. The rest are still waiting to get their lives back.
Those people died because they were poor and existed in a country governed by people only concerned with the lives of the rich.
Don’t let their light show distract you from their lack of action.