Jonathan Pie: Papering Over Poverty

June 18, 2017
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Jonathan Pie: Papering Over Poverty

Is austerity putting lives in danger?

The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14 June 2017 at a 24-storey, 220-foot (67 m) high tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, west London, England. The Metropolitan Police has said that 74 people are missing and presumed dead, while a further five dead persons have been formally identified, bringing the presumed total number of deaths to 79.[1]

Emergency services received the first report of the fire at 00:54 local time and it burned for around 24 hours until finally extinguished.[2] Initially hundreds of firefighters and 45 fire engines were involved in efforts to control the fire, with many firefighters continuing to attempt to control pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated due to concerns that the tower could collapse, though the building was later determined to be structurally sound.

The tower contained 120 one- and two-bedroom flats at the time of the fire. Sixty-five people were rescued by firefighters. Seventy-four people were confirmed to be in five hospitals across London; 17 of them were in a critical condition. The searches had to be stopped for a time on 16 June 2017 as the building was thought to be unsafe, but rescuers were able to enter on 17 June 2017 and reached as far as the top floor.[3] The cause of the fire is not known. The speed at which the fire spread is believed to have been aided by the building’s recently added exterior cladding.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, criticised the safety guidelines, in particular, those telling people to stay in their flats until rescued by fire services. This advice assumed that fire services would be able to contain a fire within the building’s interior, which was impossible in this case as the fire was spreading rapidly via the building’s exterior. Since 2013, the residents’ organisation, Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly expressed concern about fire safety, and had warned the block’s management in November 2016 that only a catastrophic fire would finally force them to treat fire precautions and maintenance of fire-related systems properly. On 16 June, Prime Minister Theresa May, who had faced criticism over her handling of the tragedy, announced a £5 million fund for victims of the fire; all those made homeless are to receive £5,500, with each household to be given at least £500 in cash and £5,000 paid into an account.

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