The recent devastation of the fire and the sheer loss of life, property and security for the residents of Grenfell Tower indicate a cultural problem that has been allowed to continue as long as time itself. Usually with some smart arse who likes to point out that “Labour failed to make the problem go away” or “the welfare state is too relied upon!”
You see, I look at Grenfell and recognise the issues. Yes they got cheap housing. Some even took benefits. But there were caveats. Recent years have seen not just a stalling of health and safety legislation and inspection, but actual cuts to those inspections, the money used to prosecute the deadly and also on top of that some of the laws and regulations appear to have been relaxed. The media were allowed to bang on about “health and safety gone mad.” Private landlords were allowed to push up rents meaning those on limited incomes (often working full time) were forced into worse and worse accommodation or to lose their finances to that rent making sacrifices in other ways (eg food).
I come from a working class background myself, and I too do not earn a heck of a lot of money. You can do all the overtime a month you’re physically able (and many jobs we working classes do will typically exhaust us, some even endanger us or our health) but it often falls short of the money needed to cover rent. I can certainly see how those that lived in Grenfell felt that their lives were not being valued, and that they may have been working hard for bugger-all pay-off only to finally witness catastrophe.
Other working class people, the types many middle classes like to look down their noses at in this sort of myopic “welfare state” snobbery, will be looking at this and recognising the very same issues. All they want is a safe home, food in their belly and a fair wage. What they often get in the media is accusations of being dole scum, or culturally made to fight it out between themselves in the letters pages as reason NOT to invest in our work and our right to safe homes.
So today and yesterday riots spilled out. And what do the middle classes in the rightwing press suggest “oh you mustn’t do that, because you’ll lose the right to change!” Haven’t the working classes lost everything already? When you culturally have no power, no influence, are basically thrown into a ghetto state and told to know your place by many aspects of the media (even a quick look at TV programs like Eastenders suggests to the working classes that “this is all you should ever aspire to” whilst presenting a stereotype to other parts of our Nation)… is it any wonder people get angry?
And no. I am not justifying or making excuses for violence. But when you have nothing you in turn have nothing to lose in violence. There is nothing to barter with. I find myself standing on the periphery seeing this unfold like some Dickensian drama and equally recognise I have been quite lucky that family have helped my own personal circumstances, but also I recognise the anger, the sense of frustration, the feeling of hopelessness. It is affecting my friends and my family who are in similar situations.
What the UK needs now is radical change. Fair wages. Capitalism is ok, but excess at the expense of others is not. (I believe you should be allowed to make a profit, that’s fine! But not if it means you cannot pay your workers!) Capitalism needs to change! If we are to utilise tower blocks for homes then they need to be safe (eg have sprinkers and more than one escape point!).
Any idiot that suggests this is not a worthwhile endeavour is misleading you and their motives need to be questioned.