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The Globe and Mail

Don’t politicize a tragedy? Tell that to Grenfell residents

Natalie Bloomer is a British journalist.

"Don't politicize a tragedy," the chorus of people said on Twitter, as others voiced their anger over the Grenfell Tower fire in London. It may be uncomfortable to hear, but some tragedies are unavoidably political – and this is one of them.

Within hours of the fire starting, a blog post written by the Grenfell Action Group began to circulate on social media. It was from 2016 and detailed residents' concerns about the risk of a serious fire at the building. It seems their warnings were ignored. This is not unusual for social-housing tenants in the U.K. Whether it's complaints about damp living conditions or overcrowded accommodation, the poorest in society know they can shout all they like, but that more often than not, the authorities won't be listening.

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A combination of soaring house prices (a typical home in London now costs £482,779, or about $815,000), a shortage of social housing, and government cuts to local authority budgets has led to a desperate situation for many low-paid families in the capital. The regeneration of neighbourhoods has seen people being moved away from their local communities as their old homes have been torn down to make way for luxury apartments. Protests from local campaign groups have fallen on deaf ears.

Grenfell Tower was also part of a regeneration program. This program included cheap cladding being fitted to the outside of the building that, the Times reports, was deemed unsafe in the U.S. because of its flammability.

As the death toll hit 30 on Friday (it is expected to climb), demonstrators chanted "We want justice," at a London town hall. This is political, there can be no doubt.

The General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack has said that in a building such as Grenfell Tower, it's expected that a fire would be contained in the room or flat of origin. Tragically, that didn't happen. Instead, onlookers describe the flames licking up the building rapidly, trapping people inside.

It's also been reported that the publication of a recent review into fire safety regulations in tower blocks had been delayed by the government. People are angry, and they have a right to be.

This isn't about scoring political points; it's about making sure that anyone who failed in their responsibility for ensuring the safety of those families is held to account. People don't want to hear useless statements about learning lessons. They want justice.

You only have to listen to the interviews given by residents to realize just how political this is. One after another has complained about the cladding. Others have spoken of the lack of fire drills. Some have questioned why there were no sprinklers. All were stunned by the devastation they'd seen. All had questions about how this could happen.

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It's not wrong to ask why residents' concerns were not listened to. Nor is it wrong to come to the conclusion that they were ignored because they were poor. A local pastor told a British newspaper yesterday that he blamed the situation on the "disgusting" wealth divide in the capital, saying, "This would not have happened in those two £5-million flats around the corner. These things will keep happening if the poor carry on being ignored."

For those lucky enough to escape, it is essential that they are provided with permanent and local accommodation and helped with the cost of replacing their lost possessions. And it's also essential that we keep making this political. To do anything else would be a disservice to the victims and their families. They deserve justice and the only way to get that is to ask the questions politicians would rather not answer.

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