It’s been four years since I woke up to a thick acrid smoke clogging the city, as Grenfell Tower burnt all night and into the hours of the morning. There are some things that are impossible to forget, and the scorched building smoldering against the blue skyline, a building so familiar from my childhood, is one of them. The videos that quickly made the rounds, the pleas asking to be saved, the final moments being documented in lives, all are seared sharply in my memory, haunting my thoughts, a nightmare never far enough.
When Theresa May’s voice broke as she delivered her resignation, with tears threatening to fall, I can’t say I was completely unmoved. She was given a poisoned chalice in Brexit. Yet the fact that it was Brexit that forced May’s resignation, not her “hostile environment” strategy, not the Windrush scandal, and not the complete utter incompetence before and after the Grenfell tragedy, is a bitter pill for the entirety of Britain’s forgotten community.
Residents of Grenfell will wonder why their prime minister could not shed a tear for their plight, why instead she chose to avoid them and only visit the council and emergency services. They’ll wonder how their government could leave them nearly two weeks with no emergency response strategy in place, where community and charity groups had to mobilise and work a system. How they could be placed in temporary accommodation for months, waiting for the promised adequate and urgent response. How they could watch their entire lives go up in flames, while the country’s richest sat mere meters away from them.
In one of the world’s richest countries, children go through the school day with no food. Under May’s leadership, our country witnessed the biggest jump in child poverty for three decades. Many students don’t qualify for free school meals, and those that do are restricted to certain options and insufficient portions. Low-income families have turned to food banks, with some forced between choosing between going cold or going without food for the day.
Homelessness has reached a record high, with a new household found to be homeless every five minutes. Since 2010, child homelessness has increased by 80%, and in the past five years, the number of rough sleepers has doubled.
Austerity has not been the only gift from our government. Hate crimes are on the rise in the UK. ‘’If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere,” May told us, choosing to feed into the dehumanising anti-migrant rhetoric employed by the far-right.
Four years since the Grenfell tragedy and hundreds of buildings around the UK remain with flammable cladding, with no adequate steps taken to prevent another tragedy from happening, with our government remaining indifferent to the suffering of low-income families, to marginalised communities, and to communities of colour.
Grenfell will never be forgotten.
Noor El-Terk is a MAB volunteer who was at the centre of the aid operation in the aftermath of the fire.