On 16th June I was interviewed by Channel 4 about Grenfell Tower and what this tragedy says about the welfare state and our society. You can watch the interview here, and read the transcript below.
David Lammy MP: “For your middle-class viewers, this is about whether the welfare state is just schools and hospitals or whether it’s about having a safety net. I get quite emotional as I say that.
“We need to live in a society where we care for the poorest and the vulnerable. And that means housing. It means somewhere decent to live. It was a noble idea that we built… and it’s falling apart around our eyes. That’s what it’s about.
“And if it’s taken this tragedy to bring that reality home to people, who are lucky enough to live in very different circumstances, then thank God.
“It’s about the welfare state. Do we believe in a safety net or not?”
Jackie Long: “Because what do you think this says about the state of some housing? Some state-run, council-owned housing?”
David Lammy MP: “You can’t contract out everything to the private sector; the private sector do some wonderful things, but they have for-profit motives, they cut corners. If you haven’t got the officers to check on the enforcement of buildings, don’t expect it to be done.
“You know… are there fire extinguishers? I knock on doors all the time, all MPs did. We’ve all been up to those tower blocks, they exist right across the country.
“Where are the fire extinguishers on every corridor? Where are the hoses? Are the fire doors really working? Where are the sprinklers? If you want to build these buildings, then let them at least be as good as the luxury penthouse buildings that are also being built.
“But these buildings aren’t, is the question. So you either demolish them and house people in a different way, or you absolutely refurbish them to the best quality that we can do.”
Jackie Long: “Do you think this says anything about the value that is placed on the life of people who cannot afford to buy their own property; to live in some of the nicer bits of Britain?”
David Lammy MP: “This is a tale of two cities. This is what Dickens was writing about in the century before the last, and it’s still here in 2017. It’s the face of the poorest and the most vulnerable.
“My friend who lost her life was a talented artist, but she was a young, black woman making her way in this country and she absolutely had no power, or locus, or agency. She had not yet achieved that in her life.
“She’d done amazing things: gone to university, the best in her life. But she’s died with her mother on the 22nd floor of a building. And it breaks my heart that that’s happening in Britain in 2017. Breaks my heart.”