As we listen to the often jaw-dropping evidence emerging from the Grenfell Inquiry, we may well ask how the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation officers developed such antipathy towards those they were employed to serve.
Where did this contempt come from? How did they get away with their grubby dealings over contracts, and reduce specifications to the cheapest they could get away with?
I don’t have the answers to all of that, but I tried to contribute to the Inquiry. I applied three times to be a ‘core participant,’ whereby I could read evidence and put questions in advance. But I was informed that I have nothing to add to the proceedings.
I couldn’t be a bystander, so I decided to re-release my report, ‘The Most Unequal Borough in Britain’ with a new introduction. It will, I hope, be a contribution to the debate about how an atrocity on the scale of the Grenfell Tower fire could happen in what so many still perceive as a uniformly wealthy borough.
The Tory-run council has done a fine job of maintaining this façade; it is time to look behind the £1 million-a-year, taxpayer-funded mediacoms machine, and see the reality of life for so many in a borough of extremes.
While I rage at facile television programmes featuring women in Kensington and Chelsea with shoe wardrobes and bodyguards, I reserve the right to also rage at the injustice meted upon their near neighbours at the opposite end of the income spectrum.
In 2014 I carried out research on Office of National Statistics figures for national, London-wide, borough-wide, and ward indices of deprivation, going even deeper into lower super-output areas (LSOAs), which are neighbourhoods of around 500 households. In a borough of extremes, this is far more revealing than broad averages.
Over the past six months, shielding post-cancer, I have revisited these statistics in this updated and more detailed report. Since 2014, in Kensington and Chelsea, the rich have got richer, and the poor have got poorer.
In terms of income alone, we are the only borough in London with three wards in the ‘top 20 least deprived’ and three in the ‘top 20 most deprived’. Golborne, the ward I represent as local councillor, is the most deprived ward in London across the ONS deprivation scores.
Worst of all, the ward where Grenfell Tower burned in June 2017 is now, for the first time, in the list of shame and is now the sixth most deprived ward in London.
Disparities in health are huge. People living in Hans Town just south of Knightsbridge have excellent health, reporting a minus figure of -3.4%, whereas 11 bus stops down King’s Road, in World’s End estate, ill health is an unforgivable 61%.
This clearly impacts on life expectancy, and the good people of Knightsbridge may see their white, British-born male neighbours live to a ripe age of 91, whereas in Golborne, a Moroccan man may only live to 64, never to retire and take his hard-earned pension.
Of our over 65s, nearly one quarter live in poverty. And if they need to move into residential care, they may be disappointed as a 2018 report by Independent Age said Kensington and Chelsea was the third worst provider of residential care in the country.
How does it look for the future, when an appalling 38% of our under 19s live in poverty according to Trust for London? Will our young people living in struggling families have access to good quality food, broadband, sports, or shoes that fit?
There are more statistics of concern, and many that are not included in the ONS Indices of Deprivation. These datasets do not include information about race or ethnicity, which emerging science tells us are often indicators of poor outcomes in a range of life-changing issues, and which are quite rightly at the forefront of our minds at this point in history.
I will be working with colleagues on a future report covering physical and mental health, housing and environmental issues, all in the light of race and ethnicity where so much work is being done during and hopefully post-Covid.
We will also analyse closely the results of the Census in 2021, which has very detailed information on race, ethnicity, spoken languages, and other matters that are highly relevant when seeing where local government can do better.
Unlike in other geographical areas of high deprivation, there is no plausible justification for such extreme deprivation in Kensington and Chelsea. If the council over the years had done its job and spent where need is greatest, we would have a more equal, happier, better balanced society where people could prosper and achieve their ambitions.
I’m not starting a class war here – I am hardly qualified to do so. I have always maintained that in Kensington and Chelsea there are good people with high incomes who pay their taxes, treat employees with respect and pay decent wages, and care about their neighbours who have so much less than them.
Hundreds stepped up after Grenfell to help with time, money and care, and still do. Not for thanks or praise but because it is the right thing to do. Many told me after Grenfell, ‘I had no idea there was such deprivation in our borough’, and, ‘I had no idea the council cared so little for poorer people.’
There are also people in the borough who feel that their wealth protects and exonerates them from responsibility, and that those without it are somehow lesser beings – second-class citizens.
Sadly, many of the latter type run the council and it is to them that I address my report. It provides evidence of their failure.