Jamie Kinlochan reflects on the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, and the reality that how safe people are when they are in their home is the result of political decisions.
What has happened at Grenfell Tower is a disaster. As more details emerge of what people knew, didn’t know or chose to ignore, we have a duty to be angry.
An inquiry has been called and it should reveal exactly what went wrong with how the high rise was built. We don’t, however, need an inquiry to tell us that something has gone wrong with the way our society is being built.
I grew up on the fifteenth floor of a fifteen storey building. It was one of four multi-storey buildings built close to each other in 1971. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the people in those flats since Wednesday morning.
I lived with my mum, a single parent, there for about fifteen years. Mrs Sweeney, from number 92, was retired and spent her mornings in the launderette. Single mums like mine would start their washing of a morning and head to the processing line of the local bottling plant or camera factory. Mrs Sweeney would start moving everyone’s washing it around, from spin to tumble drier.
My mum arrived home from work to a neatly folded pile of school uniforms, work uniforms, pants and socks. I still don’t know what the rules were but she never got paid, she didn’t have a list and she never asked any questions.
When it snowed, every block would empty and someone’s parents would hand us a bin bag to slide down the hill on. When the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game came out, we would crowd out the bedroom of whoever found a way to beat the main boss. And when the Provvy woman came for her weekly collection, a quick phone call system let those who didn’t have the money know to mute the TV and get behind the couch.
These would all be excellent scenes in a nostalgic Hogmanay programme. We’d laugh at the working class shorthand. And we’d forget to ask why so many of those women had to work three jobs to make ends meet; why the children didn’t have sledges or why so many people were dependent on loans with 535% APR to get from one week to the next. We’d forget to mention that whilst our lives were piled four wide and fifteen deep, families just ten minutes down the road had a spare bedroom, two living rooms and a back and front garden. We’d forget how unfair it is and we’d forget that people living like this is a political choice.
Eventually, as families grew and time moved on, the community of the flats disappeared. It stopped feeling like we lived our lives together. We left Endrick House in 1997 and each of the four blocks, and the high levels of asbestos found in them, had been demolished by 2015.
The existence of the council flat that we moved into next, with its washing green and five neighbours rather than 239, was the result of a political decision. More public money was spent on new houses. The minimum wage and family tax credits that allowed my mum to afford the rent of a better place was the result of a political decision. More money was put in working class people’s pockets.
The university education that I went on to receive, and the new choices afforded to my family because of it, was the result of a political decision. Fees in Scotland were abolished and places for people from postcodes like mine were guaranteed.
Where people do and don’t get to call home is the result of a political decision. How safe people are when they are in their home is the result of a political decision. Allowing some to seek profit at the expense of people’s lives is a political decision.
Presenting austerity as the status quo, as just the way it has to be, is the Tory political choice. Our choice is different.
A website has been set up by people in the area detailing what support is needed. Visit grenfellsupport.wordpress.com