Grenfell Tower: one year on, its legacy intertwined with racism and classism

It has been almost a year since the Grenfell Tower tragedy that, according to a government report, claimed the lives of around 80 people—though in the past year some people have claimed that the real casualty figure is well above 100. Either way, the Grenfell tragedy demonstrated clearly that the lives of the working class and, for the most part, immigrants and people of colour, matter significantly less than those of their white, wealthy counterparts.

The tower, which still stands in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, has recently been the focus of much media attention. Just this week, The Guardian published a piece on the “Lives of Grenfell Tower”, in which mini obituaries, written by the friends and family of the victims, were published as tributes to those who lost their lives.

In the run-up the one-year anniversary of the fire, the country has been considering the legacy that Grenfell has left behind. The tragedy saw the UK unite in solidarity with the victims and their families, and against the reckless incompetence that ultimately led to the fire. The incompetence, coming from both the government and property developers, includes the failure to take seriously the several complaints made by Grenfell residents regarding the lack of fire safety, as well as the failure to replace the extremely combustible cladding with fire-resistant cladding. According to The Independent, the fire-resistant cladding, which would have prevented the fire spreading at such a rapid pace, would have cost only £293,000 to install. In short, the government valued the lives of 80 people, including several children and teenagers, at £293,000.

The consequent investigation into the tragedy, however, has not urged the government to ban combustible cladding, despite calls from campaign groups all around the country. The report was justifiably met with harsh criticism, with many simply asking, what more will it take for things to change?

The legacy of Grenfell is clear. Of course, we will remember each and every soul that tragically perished in such a preventable disaster, but we must also remember that classism and racism are still relevant. Most, if not all, of the residents of the tower were working class people, while a significant majority had migrated to this country in the hope of bettering their lives.

Not much has changed since the tragedy. Nobody responsible has been charged or arrested, and combustible cladding has not been banned. The lack of response is a disgrace, but the campaigns of the victims’ families provide hope for a future with better oversight and more safety.