"It's so unfair. We paid a lot of money to live here, and we worked hard for it. Now these people are going to come along, and they won’t even be paying the service charge.”
- Maria, (The Guardian newspaper, Thursday 22 June)
For just a short time the gap that exists between rich and poor was bridged. As people from all walks of life came to help residents of the Grenfell tower, the fire brought a divided community together. But now, as the plans to rehouse the fire victims in new social housing amongst luxury flats unfold, the pity disappears - the rich residents come to realise that the victims would be moving into their neighbourhood.
Earning your place
Maria, quoted above was probably just saying what others felt in their hearts, ‘we earned this so we deserve it’. Their hard work was what got them luxury apartments in the first place. However that makes several assumptions.
Firstly, that those who can't afford luxury apartments are not working hard. The rationale is that if they just worked a bit harder they too could afford a luxury apartment worth £1.5million or more.
Secondly, justice is about what you earn and what you're worth. Those that earn more money deserve better things than those who earn less money.
Let's think about that for a moment. That is suggesting people who are on minimum wage are paid that amount because that is what they are worth and they do not work hard enough to be paid more. Therefore they do not deserve to live in nice safe places, especially if they do not pay an unattainable service charge.
Those that are paid less often have to work twice as hard in order to keep afloat
Those that are paid less often have to work twice as hard in order to keep afloat. In the days after the tower went up in flames a man explained how he escaped the fire only because he was working his second job at that time of night.
Those who earn high wages will often not understand what it is to be poor. Zero hours contracts mean you have no job certainty or benefits such as holiday entitlement or sick pay. Essentially, you don't work, you don't get paid. I have local friends who desperately want the hours but if their boss doesn't give them they won’t earn enough to get by. They accept zero hours contracts because it's all they have but they long for the stability of a 40 hour week.
Injustices heap upon injustices as we as a society all long for those things that the rich have. We might even be rich ourselves but not realise it because we are not as rich as those we know and long to be like.
How do we categorise wealth in this day and age?
My grandfather came from a wealthy family where they had a large home with servants. The servants were treated with respect and their welfare was looked after by those that employed them. If they fell on hard times in a tragedy that was not of their own making the employer would look after them and ensure they had what they needed.
Modern day servants are those in low paid jobs but their employers do not care for them. They are often employed by agencies which adds another degree of separation from those they serve. In most cases if your employee falls on hard times and if it affects their work then they will be sacked because they are no longer fulfilling their contract.
Have we neglected those who have fallen on hard times?
How much have we accepted this world view that those that are rich deserve it because they work hard and those that are poor are lazy? Have we neglected those who have fallen on hard times because they made bad choices and we feel they deserved the consequences of their actions? Have we chosen to prefer the rich rather than the poor? Do we long to prosper so much that we forsake others in our paths?
Some of the very things that caused the spread of the Grenfell tower fire were greed about saving money. An attempt to make the building look good next to the shiny new sports centre and academy proved catastrophic. The council refusing to listen to the concerns of the residents about their safety and the lack of concern generally about safety in social housing tower blocks led to the deaths of scores of people.
How can we as Christians try to change this society? How can we bring justice?
We can pray. We can campaign for safer homes. We can complain about the injustice we see to relevant authorities. We can lobby our MPs. We can speak to our friends and family about our attitudes and see if we have believed the lie that the poor deserve to be poor and we can study justice in the Bible and ask God to reveal to us what we can do to make our society more just because the God we love, loves all of us the same rich or poor and he wants us to love each other too.
Gaby Doherty lives opposite Grenfell Tower. Her husband Sean was the first Church of England priest on the scene after the fire.