Grenfell Tower fire was a result of “putting profits before people”, campaigners have said in a powerful statement released on Wednesday.
In a speech read out on behalf of the Justice for Grenfell action group, residents who lived near to the tower said people had paid for cuts to services “with their lives”.
“Grenfell Tower is emblematic of the deep, problematic problem of inequality that exists across the United Kingdom; the entirely predictable result of the systemic disregard for ordinary people and their basic rights.
“Grenfell Tower is the result of putting profit before people. A council that has been Tory since 1964 has been conducting its own internal, to quote David Cameron, ‘bonfire of of red tape’ for many years.
“A council that boasts about its financial management, enabling it to give £100 rebate to its wealth residents. You are only eligible for this rebate if you have paid your council tax in full in one payment, while cutting services for everybody else.
“People have paid for this with their lives and now those responsible appear to be engaged in attempts to play down the full scale of the disaster and avoid prosecution for their abject failures.
“There is no doubt in the minds of the survivors... that austerity kills. Cuts corruption and incompetence all contributed to the disaster that is Grenfell.”
Speakers at Wednesday’s event said that the tragedy that befell the residents of the the 24-storey tower, which killed at least 80 people, was “social murder” and “state terrorism”.
Issues surrounding regeneration and deregulation were at the forefront of ‘The Avoidable Tragedy’ discussion at Queen Mary University of London yesterday evening.
Joe Delaney, who lives on the Lancaster West Estate where the burned-out shell of Grenfell Tower sits, said Labour are just as responsible as the Conservatives when it comes to regeneration projects across the capital.
Grenfell Tower underwent a multi-million refurbishment project just months before flames engulfed the building, with the newly-fitted cladding being widely-identified as a contributing factor to the rapid spread of the fire.
Delaney said that land is now valued more than people and poured scorn on the use of the term “regeneration”.
Delaney said on Wednesday: “I don’t plan to make this issue political, because frankly I think Labour has just as much blood on their hands when it comes to this matter as the Tories do.
“You only have to look at the actions of the Labour council, say in Lambeth, to see how they have treated residents there in terms of regeneration... the land you are on is worth more than the people who are on this land and we will take it from you by any means that we can.”
Residents in the south London borough have been fighting the council’s regeneration plans for years, with people in Cressingham Gardens estate trying to stop their homes being demolished to make way for more properties.
Hilda Palmer, from the Hazards Campaign, echoed Delaney’s comments.
She said: “Joe was right to talk about the Labour governments having as much blood on their hands as the Tories.”
She added: “When I saw the Grenfell fire, I was horrified, saddened, angry as hell, but I wasn’t entirely surprised because Grenfell is a result of the deregulation that we’ve seen over the last 40 years, particularly over the last seven years.”
She said that David Cameron did “huge amounts of damage” in regards to deregulation during the coalition period, adding that the 2015 Tory manifesto “confirmed that deregulation was still a priority”.
Referencing Cameron’s call for a bonfire of regulations in 2011, Palmer said: “Grenfell was an obscene bonfire of real people”.
Palmer continued: “The deaths of the people at Grenfell was social murder.
“It was state murder, state terrorism.”
Professor Steve Tombs later added: “Morally I think we know that what happened at Grenfell wasn’t corporate manslaughter, it was.. social murder.”
On Sunday, John McDonnell said that those responsible for the “social murder” at Grenfell should be held to account.
“There’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder where decisions are made with no regard to consequences of that, and as a result of that people have suffered. That’s what’s happened here, and I’m angry,” the Shadow Chancellor said.
He added: “I believe social murder has occurred in this incidence and I believe people should be accountable.”
Dr Vickie Cooper, co-author of The Violence of Austerity, said on Wednesday: “There has been a level of routine and every day housing violence happening here in London and around the rest of the UK since 2010.
“It’s been happening also under the Labour government.”
This “housing violence”, as she calls it, was amplified under the coalition government’s austerity measures in 2010, which led to housing protections being “eroded by the state”.
The overwhelming feeling from the panel of experts was that politicians, both national as well as local, have a lot to answer for what transpired at the doomed high-rise block.
The discussion in east London coincided with the first council meeting of Kensington and Chelsea Council, where survivors were forced to hammer on a fire escape door to get into the locked chamber.
The everyday struggles encountered by residents dealing with the building’s tenant management organisation (TMO) was brought home by one resident who said her life was “hell” before Grenfell and that nothing has changed.
The woman told the panel: “Our lives were hell before Grenfell, for us TMO tenants and our lives were continued to be hell under TMO.
“So what I’m asking on behalf of people of people who are not here is how do we nail the TMO and the individuals like health and safety executives who are sitting there writing us nasty letters, terrorising us, making our lives hell, how do we get these people?”
Cuts to the fire service were also addressed at the meeting.
Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said that it was a “miracle” no firefighters died during the Grenfell fire as it was an event that “nobody had trained for”.
“What was absolutely remarkable is that Grenfell Tower was so unusual in terms of fires that we deal with,” Wrack said.
“All the procedures that we rely on could not be applied, all of the safety training that we rely on could not be applied and people did remove their breathing apparatus, people working in teams that aren’t supposed to split up, did split up, people who aren’t supposed to get lost, did get lost.
“It’s truly a miracle we didn’t lose any firefighters that night.”
He lambasted cuts to fire services and reiterated the unfairness of the “postcode lottery”, which can see a different number of units and equipment turn up to a blaze depending on which county the fire is located.
He called for ministers to be held to account, rather than focusing solely on local government.
John Cooper QC said the Grenfell disaster “is political”, as well as a crime as he raised concerns about the ability of Sir Martin Moore-Bick to lead the public inquiry.
“Already I have concerns about the composition of that inquiry,” Cooper added.
Delaney, whose talk had to be cut short when a fire alarm forced occupants of the lecture theatre to vacate the building, said survivors had been “messed around by the council” and offered inadequate housing units.
“The housing offers that are being made to the tenants are an absolute joke and they are just being made at the moment so that Theresa May can say that her promise is being kept,” Delaney said.
“I find it ironic that Theresa May is willing to spend £1 billion to stay in her home and yet a few hundred thousand pounds couldn’t be spent for us to stay in ours.”