We must campaign for justice for the victims of this terrible tragedy, says BERNADETTE HORTON
I WATCHED in absolute horror as the tragedy of Grenfell Tower unfolded.
Every sinew in my body ached in despair and then screamed at the sheer loss of life and coupled with it, the sheer lack of humanity from a Tory government, which, quite frankly, views this tragedy as an inconvenience to the Brexit negotiations.
The fire is a total distraction from what they want to get on with: showing the world just how “tough” Theresa May can be as she extricates Britain from the European Union.
The awful scenes on TV took me back to a personal horror of mine. In 1991 under John Major’s regime, intrest rates sky-rocketed to 15 per cent, which led to over 75,000 houses being repossessed. Mine was one of them.
And on the same day my house was taken away from me, I found out that I was pregnant with my second son.
Soon after that, all our worldly goods were packed into a van and we headed over to a B&B.
My then husband, our three-year-old son and I were shown a room in the B&B which could barely fit a bed.
We came to know the other people in the hotel and they were all homeless and waiting on the council house list, which at the time was 12-months long. In the end we waited three years to be rehoused.
The reason I bring this up is because the place was a huge fire risk. B&Bs are typically built for guests to bring a suitcase or two and stay a few days or weeks. They’re not built for families to live in for extended periods of time.
Our room was covered in huge piles of clothing and bin bags full of toys and laundry. Every tiny space was rammed to the rafters. All the other families in the B&B lived in similar conditons.
We stayed there for six months and the fire service was continually being called out as one alcoholic lady used to burn candles in her room. It was horrendous knowing that you could be woken at any time of the night and that your family’s lives could be at risk.
With pushchairs on landings, and the sheer amount of personal belongings in every room, I doubt many of us would have survived if a serious fire had taken hold of the building.
Nothing was ever done about the state of things. Why? Because, like Grenfell Tower, the residents were poor. We were homeless, most families were on benefits of some kind and some suffered from serious alcohol, drug and mental health issues.
To the Tory government of the day, we were the very bottom of society and we didn’t matter at all. The Grenfell survivors are now being treated as a tiresome burden by May’s government.
Quite rightly, Jeremy Corbyn has stood shoulder to shoulder with many of the victims who are traumatised by the awful scenes they have witnessed and experiencing loss and the uprooting of their lives.
May has made a few grandiose statements on rehousing the Grenfell victims in the local area. But the day after, we found that victims would be rehoused up to 10 miles away.
Some Grenfell residents have now been offered housing in Preston, and above their heads hangs the axe that if they turn down a housing offer, they will then have no right to be rehoused at all.
All this because the residents of Grenfell are tenants, claiming housing benefit and many are poor.
It has emerged that some of the survivors have been given just £10 per day to live on. May allocated only £5 million in an emergency fund.
The Red Cross, the organisation that aids victims severely traumatised by wars, terrorism and famine, has been called in to help.
The Tories have insisted that there is no need for government legislation in England to force companies to install fire sprinklers. Why? Because they think it would deter house builders.
Here in Wales, Welsh Labour AM Ann Jones has worked tirelessly to bring in legislation that requires fire sprinklers installed in every new building, school, business, home, etc. Welsh Labour is in the business of preserving lives, not lining the pockets of corporations.
It simply isn’t acceptable to treat the poor this way in 21st-century Britain.
It simply isn’t acceptable to put people in housing that was identified as a major fire risk back in 2014 and not to act on that risk.
It simply isn’t acceptable to allow private companies to commit what is effectively manslaughter.
It’s almost as if the Tories are saying: “You are poor, so you must live in the cheapest housing made from the cheapest of materials, while the company that supplies the materials rakes in the profits at the expense of your lives.
“You are poor, so you are not worthy of a decent roof over your head or a house with a garden in a home that meets safety standards. You have no right to live in a warm home with adequate space for your family. Because you are poor your human rights are forfeited.”
The Tories will want Grenfell off the front pages of papers and off the TV news. Corporate lawyers will be rushing to defend their clients who may be guilty of manslaughter and negligence.
The whole Establishment will want to see Grenfell swept aside and where that tower block once stood, new homes will probably be built for the privileged few at vastly inflated London prices. Hillsborough was such an event that refused to be forgotten in the mists of time by the people. Why? Because ordinary decent people campaigned to ensure that fair and open justice was done and a proper inquiry made. We must do the same for the Grenfell families. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said we can’t wait years for a public inquiry. An interim report must be published this summer. The poor must have their voices heard like never before. We must outlaw housing that is not fit for human habitation. We must show the Tory government that the crime lies with private companies doing things on the cheap. We must not let May and her band of Tory MPs punish people for simply being poor.