The Grenfell tragedy forced the world to see the impact of neoliberalism in the UK, where profit continues to dictate housing before the people. We must resist, especially in the face of the continuing injustices being inflicted on the community, writes Daniel Renwick.
The government pledged to fully implement the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry. They gave up, writes Daniel Renwick.
The government has neglected safety standards, allowing the cladding and insulation industries to distort regulations to bring inferior materials onto the UK market. The lax rules saw Britain dubbed a ““Dump” for inferior materials. Various moments were presented to synergize the regulations with the European Union and eliminate the ambiguities that made the industry build with gasoline. But the government did not act. They didn’t want to distort the market, to use the words of Brian Martin.
In the decades leading up to Grenfell, the self-mending state cut off its limbs and sold them off to the private sector. The privatization of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) was a fatal blow to fire safety. The sale came at the end of the Thatcher rule, which was enacted in the final years of John Majors’ reign. It created the conditions for the market to go against people’s right to life.
“Grenfell showed those who were paying attention that the UK no longer has a functioning welfare state. Behind the shell of the government is a consortium of outsourced companies that bid for the big contracts and evade responsibility.”
With the public-private divide blurred, senior officials like Brian Martin became conduits for the for-profit industry in the public good of regulation. And in a market state where Thatcherism imbues everything with a contempt for the nanny state, private profits trump any sense of public protection. At the local level, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea reduced their building supervision team by two-thirds in the years leading up to Grenfell, leaving them with just four staff at the time of the fire.
Elastic language and ambiguity were written into key government documents, no more so than Approved Document B – the hotly disputed text at the heart of the Grenfell investigation. The industry has duly expanded the document and found that it complies with the regulations even when adorning high-rise buildings with highly combustible materials.
However, they could do their own homework with the partial or full privatization of the regulatory services, their incentive was to create the conditions for a thriving market. Arkonian‘s disguises, some experts argue, should not even be placed on kennels. But his cassettes were sold across the country and used in public housing, private homes, hospitals, schools and more.
Their targeted sale to local authority and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO) resulted in the tower being clad in their PE Reynobond cladding system, which proved to be the greatest accelerant and means of fire suppression the night became the first in our history that spread as it did.
But while the industry built with gasoline, residents were told to stay. Blocks across the country still post this order on their community notice boards, and firefighters are still urging people to stay indoors.
Remarkable, despite the public scrutiny‘Judge Martin Moore-Bick concluded that the law had been broken, pointing to huge holes in the performance-based fire protection system, the paneling that adorned Grenfell and the fire in just over fifteen minutes from 4 to buildings across the country.
For all its supposed efficiency, it is the private sector‘s blocks where the action is at its iciest.
Because where responsibilities are relaxed and everyone wants to share in the profits, nobody wants the costs. The ping-pong between developers, landowners and the government over who pays means tenants bear the cost.
The generation that went from renting to buying with government support and nudges has been pushed into precariousness and ritually ignored. It wasn’t until the second homes of celebrities and politicians faced exorbitant utility bills that the issue garnered national attention, but it was portrayed as a financial problem rather than a life threat.
As Inside Housing Associate Editor Peter Apps told me, the “stay” policy is why tenants are paying such huge cleanup costs. A review of fire safety protocols – primarily an escape plan – would relieve the insurance issues that are currently causing much of the crisis. It would also prioritize the right to life over the economic interests of landowners and rentiers. However, the UK lacks basic fire safety requirements which are required by law in much of the world.
Rydon, Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan all benefited from the reduced safety standards in Grenfell’s redesign. But many continue to benefit at the expense of taxpayers. Rydon has a win loop where they can refurbish buildings and then refurbish them. Even after their botched jobs, and can then be tasked with fixing their own mess. It took Michael Gove five years to understand the populist appeal “the polluter pays”, but in reality the status quo remains where the polluter benefits and people die.
Grenfell showed the observant that Britain no longer has a functioning welfare state. Behind the shell of government lies a consortium of outsourced companies that bid for the big contracts and evade responsibility.
The government pledged to fully implement the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry. they renounced.
There is now a litany of broken promises made by the government, but none is more egregious than their latest. They have failed in their duty to ensure that people with disabilities can be helped to evacuate in the event of a fire. Their disdain, usually considered local and confined to others, actually extends to the very demographics that vote conservatively.
The “Generation Buy” also faces the ever-present threats of the market’s domination of life.
As with the blanket “do not revive” orders issued during the pandemic, the government has made it clear that it is indifferent to mass deaths, even if they, or those with whom they do business, cause them.
But like the tower itself, such truths are cloaked in a gleaming facade. The burnt shell behind the tarpaulin is a symbol of the organized neglect and abandonment that characterized British polity in the neo-liberal era. Because of this, the government is now trying to tear down the tower and clean up the London skyline, replacing it with building blocks fraught with problems because the market demands that we live in substandard and unaffordable homes.
Five years later, we owe it to those affected to punish those responsible. We need to make sure that a “never again” Politics emerges. Better late than never.
Daniel Renwick is a writer and videographer who has worked closely with the community of Grenfell for the past five years. He is the co-author of the upcoming book Squalor, due out in November, with Robbie Shilliam and has directed the documentary film Failed By the State – the fight in the shadow of Grenfell, among others.
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The opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial staff or its contributors.