The blackened ruin is a towering testimony to the scale of the housing crisisby Maya Goodfellow / July 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The burnt remains of the Grenfell tower linger on the west London skyline as a sign of the UK’s housing crisis. The building, the fire, and events before and after, epitomise decades of profiteering, dysfunctionality—and disdain. In the days after the fire, the state appeared in chaotic bursts. Families and friends of the missing were left to walk the streets of the country’s richest borough in an attempt to find news of relatives. Four days later, Nisha Parti, a volunteer, said there was no consistent council presence; a new representative would come every day.
There are, the experts say, a well-known set of principles that guide the response to a major emergency. On each count, local and national government failed. Unlike the 7/7 attacks, there was no rapid response; despite stockpiling £274m in reserves, Kensington and Chelsea council offered paltry support to survivors. There was no state-run help centre, no transparency and scarcely any responsibility taken. It’s hard to believe the response would have been so haphazard had the residents been wealthy.
For decades, homes have been financialised. Margaret Thatcher’s government painted social housing as out of place in a property-owning democracy; at times, New Labour seemed to think the same way. They sold off council houses, and didn’t replace them. Transfer of control to housing associations furthered the sense that there was something “wrong” with publicly-provided housing. The commodification of homes pushed up prices and rents everywhere.