We must stop overlooking the problem of social inequality

Talking about social inequality is one thing, acting on it is quite another. One might feel that we are at something of a crossroads when it comes to the sickening levels of inequality in this country. Successive governments have failed to offer adequate solutions to people who are genuinely struggling.

We are living in a world of cynicism where second thoughts rarely count for much and where the very essence of community seems an afterthought in a world that appears to be more and more about the individual.

This is not about political jostling or engaging in scripted slanging matches, it is about the here and now and addressing problems that are within our reach but for which very little has been done.

Nationwide, millions of children remain in poverty. We face a housing crisis so severe that the crippling reality for most young people is their resignation to a lifetime of relying on their parents to get by and the conclusion that, for the vast majority, they will never own their own homes.

At a time when homelessness continues to spike and food bank usage continues to spiral out of control, that is when the admission should come that something is badly wrong.

We all saw the horrors of the Grenfell Tower blaze back in June. But calling it a tragedy suggests it was an unfortunate set of circumstances that just happened to claim the lives of 80 plus people. It was negligence of the highest order.

It was no tragedy, nor was it an accident. Those individuals who lost their lives in June died because they were poor. It is as simple as that.

The dangerous and divisive rhetoric that has tarnished council tenants as lazy or as benefit scroungers came to a head on that horrific June evening. It became something of an ugly self-fulfilling prophecy: Denigrate poor people enough to the point where it becomes acceptable to gloss over the terrible state of affairs in pretty much any city up and down the country.

And what brought home the gross injustices that claimed the lives of so many of them was that Grenfell fell yards from some of the richest properties in Britain, being situated in the most unequal borough in the country – Kensington and Chelsea.

Regulations failed to protect the residents living in that tower block. Cost cutting measures that have become synonymous with austerity were pursued as government authorities and the company in charge of the refurbishment continually cut corners.

For thousands of people in similar circumstances they must contend with the realisation that what happened in west London could have easily have happened to them. Grenfell hammered home the stark reality of inequality that is all too often staring us in the face.

Whether we chose to acknowledge it is one thing, but it’s definitely there. How we chose to react is crucial and creating a conversation around it should only be the beginning of something much more tangible.

Simply put, we no longer can afford to be blind to the injustices that greet us. It cannot be deemed permissible that we face a grave housing crisis on an unimaginable scale. It is not the failure of one political party, as both Labour and the Conservatives have a lot to answer for when it comes to the housing shortfall. It is a national failure, a disgrace in no uncertain terms and a blot on our national consciousness.

Grenfell should act as a reminder of what can go wrong when we collectively stop caring. That is not to suggest that we all lack any shred of decency or human empathy, far from it. Rather it is about breaking out of the mindset to
which we have been conditioned as a nation.

There is a very real danger though that the findings of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry won’t deliver both the answers and the changes that are required here, much like the recommendations of the Lakanal House fire didn’t in 2009.

Brexit will dominate the government’s agenda for the next couple of years at least, leaving us to question whether the social issues which are so pertinent right now will simply be reduced to mere footnotes during this parliament.

That cannot be allowed to happen. Certainly not in a country with an economy as rich as ours.

 

Image courtesy of ChiralJon

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