Deadly London Fire Shows How Concerns of Poor 'Constantly Neglected'
"We need to deal with this—we need people to be safe living in high rise buildings," said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
As the death toll from the horrific and "unprecedented" fire that engulfed London's Grenfell Tower on Wednesday continues to climb, some are highlighting the institutional and economic reasons behind the devastation amid concerns that frequent safety warnings were ignored by the British government.
"Things like this are going to keep happening if the poor are ignored in this city."
—Danny Vance, Associate Pastor at Notting Hill Community Church
Focus has particularly centered on Gavin Barwell, who served as housing minister before recently becoming Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff.
"Barwell committed last year to review part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which pertains to fire safety, but the review was delayed, according to trade journal Fire Risk Management," Business Insider's Thomas Colson reported.
A spokesman insisted that a review would take place "in due course," but it failed to materialise. Experts repeatedly warned the government's delays were endangering tower blocks throughout the UK following a 2009 blaze at Lakanal House, a tower block in south London, which claimed the lives of six people.
Previous fires, Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick noted in a radio interview, should have been a "wake-up call," but no action was taken.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the site of the fire on Thursday, said the "truth has got to come out" about what ultimately led to the fire.
In an interview on Wednesday, Corbyn suggested severe budget cuts may have contributed to the fire's severity, noting, "If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow."
"I believe we need to ask questions about what facilities and resources have been given to local authorities that have tower blocs in the area and, frankly, most do," he added. "We need to deal with this—we need people to be safe living in high rise buildings."
Today, I spoke with residents of Grenfell Tower. We must & will do everything in our power to ensure the truth about this tragedy comes out. pic.twitter.com/28EHTVeAMS— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 15, 2017
Though Corbyn's comments were met with vitriol from right-wing British tabloids, he is far from the only one pointing to the link between severe budget cuts and public safety risks. As the Guardian reported, firefighters argued that "[c]uts to the fire service had taken a serious toll on operations."
"Put it this way," said one firefighter, "you're meant to work on a fire for a maximum of four hours, we've been here for 12."
George Eaton, writing for The New Statesman, noted "Home Office figures show there are nearly 7,000 fewer firefighters in England than five years ago, leading to longer response times and a 25 per cent fall in the number of fire prevention visits. Though the number of fire-related deaths has fallen from 750 a year in the early 1980s to 264 in 2015, it last year rose to 303."
Some, in addition to calling attention to austerity, have connected the fire to Britain's widening wealth gap, noting that it is the poor and disadvantaged who suffer most from cuts to public spending.
"Today's fire in Grenfell Tower is not outside of politics," wrote journalist Dawn Foster in Jacobin on Wednesday, "it is a symbol of the United Kingdom's deep inequality."
Describing the disparities in wealth and income as "disgusting," Danny Vance, an Associate Pastor at Notting Hill Community Church, argued in the wake of the deadly Grenfell fire that safety concerns would not have been neglected if they were coming from those living in the "£2mil, £5mil flats around the corner."
"This isn't a surprise to me. Anyone who's worked anywhere in the inner city—this isn't a surprise. The poor are constantly neglected," he concluded. "Things like this are going to keep happening if the poor are ignored in this city."