The social responsibility inferno

Jun 15, 2017 by

by Melanie Phillips:

The accounts of the terrible fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London in the early hours of yesterday morning are unbearable. It seems that dozens of people perished, including entire families. The mind can scarcely process the images of trapped residents screaming for help or hurling themselves or their children from the 24-story block of flats in the desperate attempt to escape the burning building which went up like a tinderbox in a matter of minutes.

The causes of this catastrophe are not yet known. Nor can we yet say who should take responsibility.

What is obvious, however, is that something was fundamentally wrong with the way the building was constructed or the materials that were used, in breach of the most basic principle of fire-safety that a building’s construction must compartmentalise any fire to prevent it from spreading.

It is also obvious, from what these low-income residents of the block have said, that they repeatedly expressed urgent concerns about the absence of adequate fire-safety precautions but these were ignored or dismissed at every level.

We also know that building, safety and fire regulations were torn up in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher’s government, a deterioration in standards acceded to or even exacerbated by successive New Labour and Conservative administrations.

In other words, from right to left the political establishment either explicitly or tacitly agreed to let the market rip. In reacting against the previous excesses of state control, politicians veered wildly into the opposite corner and lost their moral compass along the way. Corners were cut in order to stimulate economic activity and maximise profits. The concerns expressed by the poor were contemptuously tossed aside – because the powerless never have a voice.

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