£1bn to the DUP; £40bn on Trident; and who knows how much on Brexit: this Tory government seems more than happy to throw money down the drain in order to pursue its own narrow interests. Meanwhile, it also treats the suffering of the poor in Britain with callous indifference.
The Grenfell disaster last summer revealed the Tories’ heartless attitude very clearly. As we argued at the time, this tragedy was no mere act of god, but a result of dangerous cost-cutting by the landlord, Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation, with the complicity of the Tory-controlled council and the Tory government.
By refusing to pay for decent fire safety measures such as a sprinkler system, and with their cost-cutting use of cheap, flammable cladding on the outside of the tower block, those responsible for the Grenfell tower created the conditions for the fire to spread fast and furiously. The official death toll of 71 is wildly below the estimates of the residents, which stand closer to 200.
Chaos from the top; solidarity from below
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Theresa May promised that all families would be housed within three weeks. But six months have now passed and, according to Grenfell United, a support group of Kensington residents, 4 out of 5 families made homeless by the disaster still do not have permanent homes at all.
As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out at a memorial for the victims last Thursday, it is absurd that Britain, the sixth richest country in the world, cannot house 400 families. But the reality of capitalism is that the wealth in society is reserved for a tiny elite at the top. The rest of us, despite working all our lives to create this wealth, never see more than a few crumbs.
The local grassroots response in the wake of the horrific fire - by contrast - was tremendous, showing the immense self-sacrifice and solidarity of the working class. As well as providing practical help to the survivors, the local community and others raised a tremendous £24m.
Six months on, however, with survivors of the tragedy preparing to spend Christmas in unsuitable and cramped temporary accommodation, a quarter of this money raised has yet to be distributed. This chaos is a further indictment on the Conservative-controlled council, who, crippled by their own Tory austerity measures, have had to rely on charities and grassroots efforts to coordinate relief for the Grenfell fire’s victims and manage the response to a disaster that they - the Tories - have helped to create.
For a socialist solution to the housing crisis
“We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes,” Theresa May announced a week after the fire. But since then there has been no progress in improving the quality of housing in Britain.
In the weeks following the fire, it emerged that 262 tower blocks use similar cheap, flammable cladding to that which allowed the blaze to spread. It has also been found that only 2% of the UK’s council and housing association-owned buildings have full sprinkler systems. Meanwhile, the government has repeatedly refused to release money to councils to improve fire safety. Speaking last Tuesday, Dany Cotton, commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, said that a fire of these proportions “could happen again”.
The reason that there has been no progress is because accommodation fit for humans to live in costs money, and the parasitic landlords and capitalists, the swindlers who live off our hard work, would rather watch workers and the poor burn than cut into their profits. This Tory government, in turn, aids and abets these parasites all the way to the bank.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Jeremy Corbyn called for the confiscation and nationalisation of the empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea, most of which are speculative investments in the stock portfolios of City bankers, deliberately kept empty for this reason. This radical policy was met with mass support.
When Theresa May’s coalition of chaos collapses - as it surely will before long - Corbyn should go even further than this and launch a bold, socialist programme to solve Britain’s housing crisis once and for all: expropriating the landlords and capitalists, and nationalising the banks, land, property developers, and major construction companies in order to fund and build housing fit for purpose - housing for the many, not the few.