Yvette Williams
Campaigner, Justice4Grenfell

In my view, a civilised society upholds principles of equality, justice, empathy, and cooperation. However, the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which claimed the lives of at least seventy-two people in one of the UK’s wealthiest boroughs, brought to light the deep-rooted issues of social inequality and injustice. The subsequent public inquiry, tasked with investigating the cause of the fire, failed to include crucial factors such as race, class, and social housing in its terms of reference, thus hindering a comprehensive understanding of the tragedy. This omission raises questions about whether the government truly prioritizes respect, dignity, and the rule of law in a harmonious and progressive society.

Social inequality can significantly undermine the fabric of a civilised society. Economic disparities and lack of access to basic necessities exacerbate tensions and erode trust among different communities. Moreover, divisive politics, hate speech, and a disregard for democratic institutions further challenge social cohesion. Responsible governance and political systems that encourage diversity of voices and public engagement are essential for fostering an inclusive and just society.

The Grenfell Tower fire exposed stark racial disparities, with eighty-three percent of the victims being people of colour. The historical intertwining of race and housing policies has led to significant disparities and segregation, requiring a civilised society to implement fair housing policies that promote integration and equal access to housing opportunities for all races.

Similarly, addressing class discrimination is paramount in creating a just society. Like racism, class discrimination perpetuates inequality and hinders social mobility. Dismantling discriminatory practices of class necessitates a comprehensive approach, challenging systemic inequalities to ensure equal opportunities for success and prosperity regardless of socioeconomic background.

However, during the NHS crisis, food poverty crisis, fuel crisis, and worker strikes, the UK government’s response has been criticized for not adequately addressing inequality. Insufficient funding and resources for the NHS disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. The surge in food bank demand highlights the struggles faced by low-income individuals and families, while the escalating fuel crisis disproportionately impacts the most financially vulnerable. Additionally, worker strikes underscore the need for fair wages and workers’ rights.

The rule of law should be the foundation of any civilised society, applied fairly and equally for all. Yet the lack of arrests and immunity granted to corporate firms involved in the Grenfell Tower tragedy raises concerns about justice and accountability. Public inquiries, though costly, lack legal enforcement of their recommendations, leaving room for neglecting their findings.

A truly civilised society requires collective commitment to empathy, tolerance, and inclusivity. By acknowledging the historical implications of race, class, and housing policies and working towards equitable solutions, we can pave the way for a just society. The words of James Baldwin remind us to listen to the voices of the marginalized and oppressed to gauge a country’s commitment to justice and love for its principles:

‘If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one doesn’t question the police, the lawyers, the judges or all the protected members of the middle classes. One goes to those precisely who need the law’s protection the most and listens to their testimony. Ask any black man, any poor person; ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know whether or not a country is just, whether or not it has love for justice or any concept of it.’

Yvette Williams – Campaigner, Justice4Grenfell