Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 25 Aug 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The Block, Grenfell and the future

I’ve just watched a documentary on BBC iPlayer called ‘The Block.’ It was filmed in 1972, the year before I was born, and shows the lives of residents in what is effectively a slum in which the local council house people who would otherwise be homeless. The programme came from a time before documentary makers had to cater to people with the attention span of a gnat with ADHD and before they relied on cheap tricks to make people watch. Instead, it brought difficult truths into the lives of people who may not have seen them.

The stories of various people are picked up along the way, from the family who have waited 17 years for accommodation, to the girl whose children are in care and has just had an abortion to the family who are moved from the titular housing estate in Southwark to another nearby in Peckham. They also interview the council officials who are, for the most part, unsympathetic white men in middle age who seem to regard their duties with a mild distaste and to spend a lot of time smirking.

What emerges from the documentary is that the people on the bottom of the pile, despite being in a developed Western economy are reduced to near-beggary, left to scrape by in conditions that caused some children to die of pleurisy and others to develop rickets while a few miles away, people have some of the highest living standards in the country and live in a world which is unrecognisable.

And what it made me think of, or rather, what it made my partner think of and then plant in my mind, was Grenfell, where the same situation prevailed. Admittedly, the residents of the tower do at least have indoor bathrooms, but the comparisons are fairly stark, with people who had very little alternative herded into a tower block which we now know was fatally unsafe in one of the richest council boroughs in England. The difference was that the authorities in 1972 didn’t try to make the block look more acceptable by tarting it up with cut-price cladding.

As a recent convert to a kind of existential nihilism, my feeling is, partly, that we ought to shrug our shoulders and be glad it wasn’t us. But my feeling is also that if we do have to live on this crappy planet and in this paltry excuse for a society, then we should try and make sure that the conditions in which people wait for the inevitable are pleasant or, at the very least, not likely to result in them dying of pleurisy or burning to death.

The strange thing here is that there’s no movement to change this. There wasn’t in 1972 and there won’t be in 2017, beyond a brief outpouring of anger which will soon burn itself off. Money is power, and the victims don’t have any, ergo there won’t be anything other than cosmetic change. Maybe money is at the heart of this, but with what’s left of the economy is about to go under the Brexit bus, then you may as well just cut out the waiting and set the remaining tower blocks on fire now, because there will be more deaths.

Taxation levels are too low, and the way that money is distributed is laughably biased against anyone who doesn’t aspire to £40k and a Ford Mondeo. But there’s no sign this will change once we’ve left the EU. It was bad enough before and it will be worse when the pound collapses.

So I’ll say this, by way of ghoulish prophecy. The country will leave the EU. There will be less money than there was before. And things like Grenfell and the scenes that were shown in ‘The Block’ will keep happening. And nothing will ever change.

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