We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it.
In the heatwave the volunteers still come, the aid continues, and the community can speak of little else.
The Grenfell fire is all that is happening in Ladbroke Grove and North Kensington. Everybody has been affected by it and, as the mass news media coverage has reflected, the response of ordinary people has been beautiful.
Even the mainstream media has allowed a platform for grief and anger, and have expressed their own rage and incredulity off camera.
We need them to stick around. One Sky News reporter told me his editor had vowed that the channel would “stay on this story all summer”- let’s see.
The silence and low-level response from Kensington and Chelsea council has been palpable. Could they be playing a waiting game?
Their actions, repeatedly and almost systematically continuing to mistreat Grenfell residents and the rest of the Lancaster West estate, suggests that there will be no change unless there is a change in personnel at the Town Hall.
Once the media go away, they will presumably step up the moves that are already underway:
- The council giving survivors £10 each in aid despite the millions that have come in
- One survivor who lost his wife being moved to an old people’s home
- One surviving family being moved three times in the days after the fire
- Residents of the low rises on Lancaster West being moved for an indefinite period to cheap hotels out of the borough
- One friend of mine who lives in a nearby, almost identical, tower block called the council to ask when they would be installing sprinklers. She wanted to reassure her traumatised children who lost friends in the fire. The council’s response: “Just be grateful you have a roof over your head”.
And yet the Spanish government has given long-term, free of charge accommodation via their embassy to a member of staff of the Spanish school on Portobello road who escaped the fire.
These stories are everywhere and as the media coverage fades, we in North Kensington fear that our cries of despair and defiance will become a localised echo chamber.
Already the media and authorities are suspected of lying about the death toll, which is presumed to be in the hundreds but my morning ‘paper had it at 79 “dead or missing”.
Something malevolently mundane and predictable seems to be unfolding before us: The richest borough in the UK will not use its obscene £300 million budget surplus to help survivors of a disaster it created. And so the relief effort has fallen on the community in the form of charity. The council, unable to relinquish its class based world view, is happy for the Grenfell victims to become charity cases.
The Royal Borough wants gratitude from the poor and the dispossessed – this is the price it demands for the provision of its philanthropic, feel-good, version of public service. Gratitude from a wretched, besieged community is the only thing that seems to arouse Nicholas Paget-Brown and this sociopathic council. Wilde’s words, written in 1891, could not be truer in 2017.
The community, so strong and undergoing such rapid growth and development in the wake of the disaster, must not fall for this perfidious trick. Reject any attempts to turn the Grenfell survivors in to charity cases.
Expect the council and Tory minority government to add insult after insult to their mess, but we must not back down from certain demands:
- All the survivors to be immediately housed in high quality, low rise, permanent accommodation – stable housing provides human dignity. If this means requisitioning the unused homes of the filthy rich then so be it. This has been suggested already by Jeremy Corbyn,
- All survivors to remain in the borough, and all children within easy travelling distance of school,
- Proper investment in social housing in this area,
- An end to social cleansing
Do not be grateful for the crumbs being thrown to the Grenfell victims. The council want to divert the community’s outpouring of compassion to serve their own tyranny, do not let them.
By Tom Charles