Although London remains one of my favorite places, it too has problems and potential deal breakers for those who want to here. Air conditioning is not a standard. Neither is having ice in your beverage (sorry Texans). Backyards are scarce, immigrants are everywhere, welfare is high, and social class is more segmented. How? Well I’ll explain how social class affects the London population through an event that is raising more questions than answers.
In the early morning of June 14, 2017, a 24-story residence tower caught ablaze in West London, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in in the city. However, the tower was far from wealthy. The cause of the fire was due to a faulty fridge on the fourth floor. The fire spread quickly due to exterior cladding that was installed in May of last year.
I visited the charred ruins with a friend just a few days after, and the atmosphere was unsettling. There were groups of people taping up missing person signs with many more people making emotional phone calls. Streets were blocked off so residents and media personnel were roaming around. Police cars were on every street with one or two fire trucks. As I looked up at the blackened building I couldn’t help but feel angry. Complaints had been made by the Grenfell Action Group and residents themselves that the tower was not up to fire safety. The cladding installed last year wasn’t installed correctly and was made from cheap, flammable material. It was used to make the tower aesthetically pleasing while the inside was still poor.
A few of my family members who live in London also shared my anger and sympathy. They each relayed stories of what they saw or heard on various news outlets and none of them were positive. The number of casualties is sitting at 79, but 400-600 people lived in that tower, and it just doesn’t add up.
Grenfell Tower is located inside the wealthy Kensington and Chelsea borough. Residents of the tower belonged mostly to the working class while most borough residents belong to the upper class. News coverage on the event was firstly human interest, but has now turned into a corporate blame game. Londoners are even calling it corporate/political murder.
I went out of the country for the weekend, and on the plane ride there, flight attendants collected donations for those affected in the fire. I ended up having an insightful conversation about the fire with my seat neighbor Pennie, who actually works in the housing industry.
“If the incident had happened before the election, the outcome might have been vastly different. It might be possible that with recent events, we’ve had our focus on terrorism and neglected other issues in our country such as housing.”
Pennie also explained why the process of of getting an accurate number of the deceased is difficult. The fire brigade has equipment to reach very tall buildings in cases like these, but the equipment requires a wide area of mounting space on the ground. Unfortunately, space is not a luxury in any part of London.
Arguments can be made as to where or not the United Kingdom has a social class issue. The same can be said for the United States with race relations, but both issues go far back into their own history. In earlier centuries, London was broken up by class, and evidence of this can be seen in certain neighborhoods like the Barbican. Brutalist housing was created specifically for the lower class at the time. This picture in the Museum of London also suggests classism:
The Grenfell Tower fire contains a number of complex issues, and social classism is just one of them. Although someone needs to answer for this tragedy, we must not forget that hundreds of people could be dead, and their loved ones are still need closure.
For more information about the fire, click here: Grenfell Tower Fire Visual Guide
For more information about British class structure, click here: U.K. Social Class