The other day in London, a tower block in the west side of the city caught fire, trapping several people inside, and even more regrettably, leading to the deaths of several others.
Tower blocks were built in the 1960s in the UK, mainly for families on low incomes, in other words, social housing. This was the way forward, it was claimed. I’m not taking any political sides here, as governments of all persuasions have failed in their duty to build safe social housing.
Yes, let’s be like America, we said back in the 1960s. Let’s build 20 storey blocks and herd people in there. Let the social deprivation spread. Let the dangers of fire spread. Death traps.
I can quote some examples. I used to live in a tower block for the first six months of my life. Of course, I didn’t realise how dangerous they could be. I’ve seen some shocking tower blocks in my local area, thankfully, demolished and other builds, such as prefab or bungalows built instead. Tower blocks are an example of the deprivation that exists in all parts of the UK. People deserve better to live in proper social housing, with the appropriate safety checks and balances in place.
Tower blocks were built with asbestos. Asbestos was a fire retardant. Then the authorities realised that asbestos was a danger to people’s health. So they did away with asbestos. Very little fire retardant materials exist in modern day tower blocks. It’s a catch 22 situation. The terrible events of the other day in Kensington bring home to those who rule, that safety should never, ever be compromised.
The aftermath? Lots of anger, fear and disillusionment, especially over the failures of the local council on safety checks, and of the national government’s inaction. 50 odd years we’ve had, 50 odd years of problems with social housing. “They have to live somewhere” goes the refrain, they presumably meaning the less well off. But that doesn’t stop them being treated appallingly badly and herded into a high rise death trap that, inevitably, will turn into an inferno.
What now? Public inquiry. But that is not going to placate the anger of the residents of Grenfell Tower and it’s surrounds. The people who perished cannot be brought back. But answers need to be provided. The provision of safety and the provision of decent social housing is surely worth more than penny pinching and profiteering, or am I missing something. Tower blocks are a shameful indictment of how the poor are treated in the UK. Unless something is done, that indictment will stand for a very long time.
Allen Brooks xx