On June 14th, this year, the 24-storey Grenfell tower in North Kensington, London, set ablaze in a tragedy that claimed the lives of 71 residents and injured numerous more. The fire is believed to have started due to electrical faults in a freezer or refrigerator, and accelerated by poor fire safety preparation and the especially combustible exterior cladding in the public housing building.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, blamed the local council and government’s “years of neglect” for the “preventable accident.” He promised Londoners, in an official statement, that “[they] will get all the answers.”
Since the disaster, councils and housing associations throughout the U.K. have endeavored to implement measures that would prevent a similar fire ever occurring again. According to BBC research, the cost of fire safety measures has now reached at least £600 million. There have been disputes between the central government and various counties over who should fund the effort, with the government claiming it would pay for “essential” measures.
The external cladding and flammable tiles on the outside of the Grenfell tower, which helped the fire spread after its initial ignition, are commonly installed in many cities within the nation. In Manchester, for instance, post-disaster safety checks revealed that the dangerous coverings had been installed on over seventy tower blocks. Despite urgent calls for their replacement, progress has halted over the past six months whilst funds are sourced. Various buildings, on which flammable tiles have only partially been removed, are required to be under the around-the-clock watch of fire wardens, leaving residents uncertain and anxious. Other towers have only had the first three floors of their structures refit with concrete panels, leaving the hazardous materials – ones that failed fire tests and regulations – clinging to upper levels.
Alongside people living in tower blocks with the same weaknesses as the Grenfell Tower, the government has been criticized for “letting down” the survivors of the disaster. 118 of the surviving households remain in emergency accommodation, most of which currently live in hotels. This contrasts greatly with the government’s promise to have all displaced families out of hotels within three weeks. The early pledge, given six months ago in the wake of the fire, has failed to be implemented.
The Leader of the Opposition and of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has said in an official statement:
“Six months on from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government is failing to learn its lessons and, more importantly, failing the survivors.
“It is a disgrace that the majority of Grenfell residents have still not been given homes and that tower blocks across our country have still not been made safe.
“We need answers from the Government and we need action.”
Mr. Corbyn, MP, asked: “Why has the Government failed to provide any funding to build new homes, or to acquire existing empty homes to help survivors?” He added that it was vital that the survivors participated in and aided the formal inquiry into the disaster, and backed local councils by insisting that the government set aside funding to finance tower block improvements — including £1 billion to contribute to the addition of sprinklers to all necessary buildings.
A memorial service will be conducted on Dec 14. to honor the lives lost in the Grenfell tower fire, six months after the devastating event. The service will be broadcast throughout the nation, and will also bring attention to the valor of firefighting crews and emergency service personnel, as well as the plight of the survivors.
With every passing day, however, it seems more and more likely that those families who survived the disaster – families who received only £5,000 immediate emergency compensation in the June aftermath of the tragedy — will be forced to spend Christmas in temporary shelters and hotel accommodation, rather than in the comfort of their own permanent homes.