Monday, June 19, 2017

Grenfell Towers, a society divided ...

In the quietness of Evensong on a midwinter Sunday night, a very brief reflection on the readings and how they speak to us right now.  The horror of Grenfell Towers invites the deeper insight of the gospel.

Choral Evensong 18 June 2017
Readings: 1 Samuel 21:1-15; Luke 11:14-28;

“Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house…”

This is a familiar passage, so much so that it has passed into our language as a piece of proverbial wisdom in the form “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” and we most commonly associate it with the nightmare of civil war.   However the truth is that there are other forms of division in a society rather than civil war, and we tend to repress acknowledgement of such divisions, we can get by very well pretending that all is well … until something happens: as it did this week.

What happened was the inferno that was Grenfell Towers – the home of 127 families, in Kensington, the richest borough in England, where a block or so down from what was Grenfell Towers are houses that sell for tens of millions; many of them allegedly empty as property investments.  Almost side by side two different worlds have coexisted: the super-rich and the very poor in crowded accommodation.  In a cruel irony, the Council had Grenfell Towers smartened up by installing cladding.  Tragically (to save a paltry£ 4250) it opted for a cheaper cladding which had no fire retardant – and it was through this cheap cladding that the fire spread.

Now we hear repeatedly of horror at cuts in Council spending (as a result of austerity measures imposed by Government) and the consequences that include considerable deregulation, a lack of building inspectors and similar cost-cutting.  Regardless of the public outcry and the political storm that has erupted, Grenfell Towers is an inexcusable tragedy and a judgement upon the economic and social policies of neoliberal economics, the deceit of ‘trickle down’ wealth and the divisions created by financial austerity.   I think The Observer has rightly summed up what has happened and the desperate need for change:

“The horrific images of people signalling for help at the windows of a blazing Grenfell Tower will remain imprinted in our collective memory long after the demolition of its charred remains. They lived in one of the richest boroughs in one of the richest cities in the word. Yet the state utterly failed in its responsibility to provide them with the most basic of protections. It continues to fail to provide the survivors and relatives with the assistance they so desperately need. This grim insight into the society that we share with Grenfell Tower’s inhabitants should shake us all.”

Grenfell Towers is a terrifying example of the consequence of the unacknowledged divisions in a society; an example of what happens when wealth is so inequitably distributed and of the hazards that follow.  A kingdom divided against itself … we have seen the reality of that and we now see how grief and suffering will turn to rage.  No good society can live like that … New Zealand should take heed.

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