Grenfell: Justice matters more than ever

Published: by Tyrone Scott

This blog originally appeared on earlier today.

This Sunday, 14 June, is the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire – one of the most horrific events in recent memory. We must never forget the 72 lives that were lost. 

As the senior housing adviser at our North Kensington Project, I worked with many people and families who suffered the consequences of that terrible June night. From people struggling to prove that they had lived in the Grenfell tower or surrounding areas, making it so much harder for them to get re-housed – to other families who had spent years in cramped temporary accommodation, patiently waiting for a secure home and forced to wait even longer. Alongside this, many were dealing with the overwhelming grief of losing friends and family in the fire.  

One woman I was supporting lost her cousin and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. Every time she looked out of her window, she was confronted by the shell of Grenfell. Imagine having to see where your loved one died every single day.   

The same challenges remain

Three long years since the fire, we are still helping individuals and families whose lives have been inextricably impacted by it. We continue to work closely alongside the Grenfell Health and Wellbeing Service – set up by the NHS for adults and children affected by Grenfell – to support those facing a vast array of housing problems, from chronic unaffordability to poor conditions and overcrowding.

I now work as our London community organiser; helping communities to campaign and fight for justice. I get a sinking feeling when my colleagues working on the North Kensington Project tell me that the community around Grenfell are still facing terrible challenges.  

Three long years (or 1,095 days) later, many of the families still live in totally unsuitable and overcrowded accommodation – whether it’s social housing, private rentals, or temporary homeless accommodation.  On top of the enduring housing problems and trauma these families have faced since the fire, the current pandemic has made things so much worse.  

Far from being a great leveller, coronavirus (COVID-19) has exposed many of the same injustices and deep inequalities within our society that Grenfell did before.  

My sinking feeling turns to dread when I think about the combination of cramped, unsafe housing and lockdown. Raising children in an overcrowded home can impact health at the best of times – but during a health pandemic, it puts lives at risk.  

This is especially true when family members are key workers who must still go out to work, or those in higher-risk categories, such as pregnant women or people with existing lung and heart problems. 

With evidence suggesting Covid-19 mortality rates tend to be higher in areas with high levels of overcrowding – it raises serious concerns about the dangers of living in such accommodation, and begs the question of why so many people do. 

History repeating itself

Overcrowded homes are a symptom of inequality. According to recent government data, 12% of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) households live in overcrowded homes in London – compared with 3% of white households. This means BAME households are four times more likely to live in overcrowded accommodation than white households. BAME communities are also disproportionately at risk of death from coronavirus.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who shared her thoughts as one of the members of our Social Housing Commission two years ago, said that ‘race and class play an undeniable part’ in the Grenfell Tragedy.  

Her words again ring true. Race and class play an undeniable part in how people are affected by coronavirus, too.

Enough is enough. So, what will it take for things to change? The battle against social injustice is ongoing – but with the power of community, I firmly believe nothing is impossible.  

Right now, we are seeing people all over the world stand up against injustice, racial discrimination, and prejudice. We see the power that can be created when people unite, organise and demand change. And we see the power created when people are given a voice.  

Access to a decent home must not depend on race, class or social status. We must be brave enough to challenge the systemic inequalities that mean that not everyone has a safe and secure place to call home.  

We will not relent

We will not relent in our support for those faced with poor housing. Alongside our partners, the Westway Trust, Space, Kensington Citizens Advice and North Kensington Law Centre, we continue to fight for decent homes to be built – as well as for better regulation of social housing and protections for all renters.  

Following the fire, our independent Social Housing Commission demanded politicians deliver the safe and secure social homes our country desperately needs. We continue to fight for these homes to be built, as well as for better regulation of social housing and protections for all renters.

And the community around Grenfell has never stopped campaigning for change. On Sunday 14 June, three years since the devastating fire, we will join Grenfell United to remember the 72 people who lost their lives as a result of the fire – and to stand by them in calling for improvements to social housing. 

Grenfell should have been the catalyst for the systemic changes in housing that are so desperately needed. The lesson from lockdown must be that we stamp out housing inequalities – now.  

It should have happened after Grenfell. We cannot wait another three years. Let’s make the next 1,095 days count.