O ne of the problems of our 24-hour news age is that major stories have an all too brief lifespan. Grenfell Tower is already starting to recede from the headlines, replaced by Donald Trump’s latest Tweet or another item about Brexit.
This is unfortunate. I’ve been to Grenfell Tower; when the wind picks up, there is a distinct scent that comes from the building’s charred skeleton. It’s a mixture of ash, chemicals, and dust; it’s a gruesome odour born out of an inferno. In the wake of that deadly breeze, it’s difficult to believe that all the dead have been accounted for; it is likely that they haven’t.
And what about the survivors? What are their lives like now? It’s easy to assume that all the charitable and government aid is being put to good use. The Prime Minister said something will be done and that’s that; we can carry on and move our outrage on to Trump not comprehending what the Prime Minister of Australia was telling him about refugees.
Dig a little deeper, however, and one finds that life hasn’t moved on.
According to a recent article in the Independent newspaper, the majority of the survivors are still in emergency accommodation; this is despite a promise from the Prime Minister that all those affected would be re-housed three weeks after the fire occurred.
Charities’ good intentions are often hindered by procedures intended to maximise their revenue. After the fire, people donated substantial sums, clothing, and furniture to the victims. However, some charities assessed the items intended for the Grenfell Tower residents, took those that had the highest value, and sold them, rather than directly give them to the intended recipients. I asked one charity worker about this; after a pause, I was merely told that it is a problem.
The common thread is a familiar one: there is something in the human psyche that wishes to tick a box, say “job done”, and then move on.
Our headlines change, the government focuses on its internal squabbles, and charities have the next disaster to manage. But a job that isn’t done well is unfinished.
Kensington and Chelsea’s council ticked boxes prior to the Grenfell Tower fire: they housed disabled people on some of the highest levels of the block.
It’s not practical, it makes care difficult, but the box was there to be ticked: find a home for this disabled person, they did it, job done. The consequences came later; this tragedy should be a memorial to the whole idea of “box ticking” as a form of government. Grenfell Tower should be remembered and continually reflected upon so it can never happen again.
One of my priorities is to change the culture of box ticking: much like sorting fly tipping, it’s going to be a slow, gradual process. It requires thinking laterally and holistically about what we’re doing.
I suspect, however, this change will be essential to achieve real progress in how we are governed.