“When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.”
These words were written by Friedrich Engels in 1845, in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’. Over 170 years later, Britain remains a country that murders its poor. When four separate government ministers are warned that Grenfell and other high rises are a serious fire risk, then an inferno isn’t unfortunate. It is inevitable. What happened wasn’t a “terrible tragedy” or some other studio-sofa platitude: it was social murder.
Today’s blog will be about the plight of a particular section of the Lancaster West community who have become the forgotten forgotten victims of the Grenfell Fire Atrocity. The graphic above (borrowed from Google Earth) shows Grenfell Tower shaded red on the left of the picture. It also shows an extensive complex of low rise blocks, two smaller blocks adjacent to Grenfell and three long blocks (‘the finger blocks’) radiating away from it. This blog will focus on the plight of the hundreds of households in these low rise blocks.
We should begin with a short history lesson. Before the recent ‘improvement works’ that replaced the heating system in Grenfell Tower, this whole part of the Lancaster West Estate was served by a communal heating system that was powered by a series of massive gas fired boilers in the basement boiler room of Grenfell Tower. The so-called ‘improvement works’ freed Grenfell Tower residents from dependence on this outdated and dysfunctional system by installing individual heating systems in all of the Grenfell Tower apartments. However, everyone else living in the nearby low rise blocks remained dependent on the communal heating system – in the Grenfell Tower boiler room.
This boiler room no longer exists and, since the night of the inferno, the many hundreds of households living in the low rise blocks have been left without hot water and without gas, which most use for cooking. Their homes no longer satisfy the ‘Decent Homes’ standard and so they they should be entitled to rehousing until such time as the gas supply is restored to their homes and new heating and hot water systems can be provided. Many have appealed to the TMO and the Council for rehousing – and all have been refused.
These same forgotten households are also subject to other hidden dangers that no-one, not a single official or media reporter – has made any public reference to. ASBESTOS. There was lots of this in Grenfell Tower, notably in the artex coated ceilings of every apartment, and there were small solid asbestos panels in all apartments too. When challenged about this several years ago KCTMO technical services officers assured members of the local Estate Management Board (now defunct) that all this asbestos was safe as long as it wasn’t disturbed – by sanding for redecoration or drilling it etc. These assurances were offered as justification for a policy of avoiding the substantial cost and disruption of removing the asbestos. Most people in Lancaster West know already that asbestos is dangerous but may not know if there’s any in their own homes, and if so where it is located.
Here are some of the facts:
In the 1970’s , when Lancaster West was built, asbestos was widely used as a fire retardent in public buildings and in social housing, especially high rise blocks. Artex was commonly used to fireproof ceilings. Until the mid-1980s Artex coating was made with white asbestos to strengthen it and make it fire resistent. These older coatings that contain asbestos, pose particularly serious health hazards. Inhaling microscopic asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, a fibrosing lung disease; pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung; and peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the abdomen. Those most at risk are the young because these diseases typically take many years to manifest.
The Grenfell Tower inferno has surely released large amounts of asbestos laden smoke, dust and ash into the air of the entire surrounding area and who knows what other toxic substances, lead and other metals etc, may have been reduced to ash and carried by the wind and smoke all over the neighbourhood. So why has no-one in authority made any public statement about this risk to public health, or begun the process of measuring the concentration of these deadly toxins in the air and the local environment?
Here’s another little conundrum. According to Transport for London, following the Grenfell Tower inferno, Latimer Road Tube station has been closed on the instructions of the London Fire Brigade, and some London Underground services have been suspended ‘due to the risk of falling debris from Grenfell Tower’. The blackened shell of Grenfell Tower stands at least 50 yards from the viaduct carrying the tube line that passes by. There is no danger of debris falling from the Tower landing anywhere near that tube line.
What they are not admitting is that there may well be a risk that the weakened structure of the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower may collapse. If it does it still seems unlikely that such a collapse would reach the tube line. It might well, however, fall on the low rise blocks that are so much closer to it and, as stated above, are still very much inhabited.
So what’s going on? Is the attitude of contemptuous indifference towards local residents that caused the Grenfell Catastrophe continuing still? Are they (the authorities) already covering up the unpalatable truths behind the crime against humanity that the Grenfell Disaster represents, a crime that is screaming from the rooftops just as the screams of the bereaved could be heard in the background when the Queen came to visit?
Finally, returning to the right to rehousing of those left without gas or hot water, a local resident, who knows about such things, has prepared a guide for residents of the finger blocks to use when seeking temporary rehousing and are met with bland refusals.
You can download the guide from here: Obtaining Hotel Accommodation