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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

The deadly cost of austerity in the Royal Borough of Grenfell

by Theo Russell

FORMER Labour MP for Kensington from 2017 to 2019 Emma Dent Coad, known locally as “the people’s MP”, was the star speaker at the online AGM of the Hammersmith, Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea Trades Council last week. There she spoke of the massive inequality in the borough and the many unanswered questions about Kensington and Chelsea council’s £50 million Grenfell Recovery Fund.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has now pledged to produce a report on its Grenfell-related spending for the first time since the fire in June 2017 in which 72 people died. Dent Coad, who is also a current RBKC councillor and a member of the Audit and Transparency Committee, said it was “hugely frustrating that it has taken so long” to have these details made public.

The Grenfell survivors and bereaved have so far seen very little of the funds, with many still not rehoused nearly four years later, and very little to show of the support services promised to them.

In 2019-20, almost 60 per cent of the £4.5 million Grenfell budget for the year was staff and council property costs. Last year a council spokesperson told the London Evening Standard that £601,000 was spent on two managers - now denied by the council.

Dent Coad said people involved in the disaster regularly stop her in the street to express their frustration with the distribution of recovery money and the lack of transparency. “I get asked about it all the time, it’s not just that people are angry about it - people are hurt by it”.

She said that “there is no leadership in the council” and described the current Tory MP Felicity Buchan as “appalling” and “a nodding dog for Boris Johnson who never stands up for her residents”.

Current and former members and officers of the council, including the council leader, will be appearing before the Grenfell Inquiry in April, and Dent Coad said huge sums had been spent on legal advice and preparation. The inquiry is due to finish in spring 2022 “after which the police investigation, which has been ongoing, will spring into action - we hope”.

“We expect to see arrests, but not to see anyone go to prison. The police can’t afford to make mistakes, so they’re going to be super careful”.

Dent Coad recalled that “on the day of the fire two senior Tory councillors were overheard on an ITV report saying ‘We offered them sprinklers and they refused’ - a completely false claim”.

The former Labour MP also spoke about the report by Kensington Labour Party Research Unit published last autumn, The most unequal borough in Britain, which she said had “changed the perception of Kensington and Chelsea as a playboy princes’ playground”.

“RBKC”, the report says, “the borough of princes, Sultans, plutocrats and billionaires, was our beautiful borough ‘the most unequal borough in Britain’?

How, in what one Councillor called “the richest borough in the universe”, with three billion pounds in reserves, could 72 people burn to death in a fire which, even in the earliest days, was blamed on ‘cheap cladding’?”

The borough has the highest life expectancy in the country, but across the borough the gap in years lived is a massive 27 years. Even more shocking, since 2010 - when a decade of austerity began to pay for the 2008 banking crash - average life expectancy in Golborne Ward fell by six years, the worst decline in the country.

So a Moroccan man on the Wornington Green estate in North Kensington can expect to live to 64, while a white British born man near Harrods can expect to live to 91.

This is the real impact of a decade of austerity and low pay on peoples’ lives, while in London, across Britain and indeed the whole capitalist world, the rich accumulate ever more wealth, year after year.

The report shows that by 2020 inequality was far worse than in 2014. In England’s richest borough, according to Trust for London, in 2020 38 per cent of children lived in poverty, higher than the London average of 37 per cent! So the borough sees Britain’s greatest concentration of the rich, side by side with its worst levels of child poverty.

While some households have an annual income of £1.8m, while a few miles away whole communities are getting by on £18,000.

We are not talking about the unemployed: three quarters of poor children have working parents, either full time or with at least two part-time jobs. What we’re talking about here is low pay, insecure employment, daily worry and stress.

Emma Dent Coad lost the December 2019 Westminster election by just 130 votes, after winning by 20 votes in 2017 after three recounts. But she has no intention of giving up the fight for the Grenfell community and for social justice. And despite the current difficulties and divisions in the Labour Party under Starmer’s leadership, she stressed the need for a united opposition to take those struggles forward