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Grenfell Tower Reveals It's Really The Middle-Class Who're Guilty Of The Politics Of Envy

26/06/2017 12:02 BST | Updated 26/06/2017 12:02 BST
Neil Hall / Reuters

The politics of envy is gross. You shouldn't worry about what other people have, but instead try to get on and do the best you can. Just because some people are getting something you don't have doesn't mean they don't deserve it.

Someone should tell this to the residents of South Kensington, who lately have been complaining that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are going to be rehoused in their neighbourhood. The homes, purchased by the Corporation of London, will be made available to 38 families effected by the blaze.

Kirsty Major of the Independent (where I occasionally contribute; Kirsty is my editor there) has an excellent analysis of the deal. The homes aren't as luxurious, the tenants don't have access to the development's amenities - though honestly, why not? - and the homes were always intended to be social housing.

But please, let's not let this get in the way of some solid middle-class outrage.

There are two chief complaints of South Kensington residents. The first is that moving in all of these poor Black and Brown people will depreciate property values. The second is that they've worked so hard to be able to own property in such a tony part of London that it's fundamentally unfair that people who have literally lost everything get a flat there for free.

In both cases, I suggest these folks go cry themselves into an organic glass of I-don't-give-a-damn from Waitrose.

That's right, you middle-class monsters. I don't care how you feel. And frankly, you shouldn't either. Some of the most vulnerable people in society have lost everything - including family members - in a fire that shouldn't have happened. If you're more concerned about the value of your home or someone getting something for (what you feel is) nothing, I think you need to lose your entitlement and find your humanity.

Let's start with depreciating property values. Kensington and Chelsea already has some of the most astronomically overpriced properties in the country, if not the world. It is one of the richest areas on earth. It's hard to believe that a few dozen working class families are going to depreciate property values so much that you lose your return on investment. In fact, property values in Kensington and Chelsea already average over £1 million.

As far as people getting something for nothing, again, find your humanity and calm down. These people aren't getting something for nothing. They're getting a new home in the same neighbourhood they lived in - where their friends, families, schools, and GPs are - in return for a home that burned down in a blazing inferno that claimed nearly 100 lives.

I appreciate that you feel you worked hard to get to where you are. Maybe you actually did. Or maybe you inherited your wealth. Either way, it doesn't matter. Living on a council estate already puts you at a massive disadvantage. You're less likely to go to university, less likely to end up on the property ladder, and less likely to even make a living wage. Never mind the fact that you likely own your home - or will one day - and these people don't.

The middle-class and the right love to moan about the politics of envy. Oftentimes, they talk about the working-class and the poor as scroungers who want something for nothing. They frame benefits, including housing benefit, as stealing from the "hardworking" taxpayers. Indeed, since Thatcher, taxes have been viewed as "my money" instead of the dues you pay to belong to society. Benefits have been seen not as something to help the vulnerable survive, but as a handout.

It's easy to see why. Channel 5 has made a cottage industry out of poverty porn. Programmes like On Benefits and Proud painting the most bereft amongst us as ungrateful ingrates who really ought to just get a zero-hours contract job and stop complaining. When Channel 4 released Benefits Street in 2014, people seemed to actively envy the residents of Birmingham's James Turner Street for their lack of work and easy life.

But life on benefits is anything but easy, and the true "politics of envy" comes not from the poor but from the rich, many of whom feel entitled to the wealth and comfort they've obtained, no matter how nefarious the means were or the effects it has on others.

I don't care what the residents of South Kensington think about rehousing the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire near them, and neither should you. The truth is, these people deserve anything we can give them. Already the most marginalised people in our society, they relied upon the state to help them survive - and the state, by means of shoddy cladding and a few thousand pounds' savings, killed them or destroyed everything they had.

God forbid the most marginalised, vulnerable people in society have a roof over their heads. God forbid it be in the neighbourhood they've lived in for years (or in cases, their entire lives). God forbid it be near you.

The residents of South Kensington complaining about rehousing Grenfell Tower victims in their neighbourhood need a reality check. Be grateful that nothing like this has happened to you. Not just the fire, but the sheer poverty that comes with living on a council estate. Instead of moaning that these people are getting help you've never needed, try being grateful for the fact that you have, in fact, never needed that help.