Grenfell : Neglect, Shock and the Idea Some Lives Are Worth More Than Others By Grehan

By Kelly Grehan 

It is now 100 days since the Grenfell fire.

In the days following the tragedy the emotion that overwhelmed me was anger that this had happened, and that although maybe the fire was not preventable, the loss of life was compounded by decisions taken in the name of austerity, deregulation, outsourcing and a general disregard for the economically poorer members of the community.  
As London Mayor Sadiq Khan said at the time “There is a feeling from the community that they’ve been treated badly because some of them are poor, some of them may come from deprived backgrounds, some of them may be asylum-seekers and refugees.”
As is now well known Grenfell Action Group warned the council and the estate management company of multiple fire hazards within the building including failing alarms, a lack of sprinklers and of faulty electrical wiring causing frequent power surges and small fires. They warned that the wholly cosmetic refurbishment of the building was a serious fire risk. 

Rather than heed these warnings the council responded with legal action against the group. 

For several decades now a denouncement of regulation has taken place. Phrases like ‘health and safety gone mad’ and ‘red tape’ are common. Free market think-tanks, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies and property developers lobby government against regulation.
In recent years it has become apparent that poorer people are no longer welcome in the Capital.

For example the demolition of social housing estates, such as the Heygate estate in Southwark, has made way for luxury flats with many bought by super-rich investors. Plots are often sold abroad in Asia or the Middle East prior to domestic sales.

The £83.7 million of cuts in Kensington since 2010 have disproportionately impacted servicers relied upon by poorer people. 

This includes closure of nurseries, of homelessness prevention schemes, of local A&E departments and in a move that says it all to me, there is an attempt to sell a public Library to a nearby fee-paying Prep School.

I can only conclude that the safety, health and quality of life of those in rented accommodation is seen as a secondary concern to profit. 

Last year, an amendment to the Housing Act tabled by Labour to introduce a legal requirement for landlords to ensure their homes are fit and safe for human habitation was voted down by Tory MPs including 71 who were themselves private landlords.



So the catastrophe that has occurred in Kensington causing, death, destruction, injury, trauma and displacement should not be dismissed as an accident. 

It is the culmination of policy and neglect aimed at those whose lives are regarded as less valuable. 

This is seen as unbelievable by those unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of policies designed to ‘punish’ those who are not high earners or wealth accumulators. But the circumstances and outcome of Grenfall are repeated throughout the world in places where neoliberalism rules. 

One such example is Hurricane Katrina which occurred, causing mass flooding in New Orleans in August 2005. It is easy to see it as a natural disaster, but that is to ignore the neglect in maintenance of the flood defences which should have protected the city from what was actually a tropical storm by the time it reached New Orleans. Despite previous repeated warnings the Army Corp of Engineers allowed the defences to fall into disrepair. 

This happened in the context of a neglect of infrastructure throughout America as neoliberal policies gained control. But is also relevant that the homes left the most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees were those occupied by economically poor black people.  

After the storm it took five days to get water and food to people sheltering in the Superdome. In common with Grenfell people did what they could to help each other but, again in common with Grenfell the state failed. 

Divisions formed along class and racial lines. Healthy people of means were able to leave the city – others – vulnerable by nature of being unable to leave – stayed. 

As people began looting to survive, news outlets used the opportunity to paint the black residents as dangerous. A war zone atmosphere emerged as vigilantes and private security guards ‘’controlled’’ the streets. Survivors of Grenfell now speak of being let down by the council, living in transit in crowded hotel rooms, some without hot water.  

My concern in Kensington now is what happens next: Milton Friedman once said ‘Only a crisis-actual or perceived- produces real change.’ 

In New Orleans , with residents dispersed across the country and schools and homes in ruins; Friedman described this as an ‘opportunity’. Public housing, including that which was undamaged was demolished and replaced with housing far out of the price reach of those who had previously lived there. 

Mike Pence (now Us Vice president) chaired a meeting 14 days post disaster to look at ‘Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina.’ New Orleans quickly became the place with the most privately run schools.  



There must be real concern that Grenfell residents and those living in surrounding blocks are able to remain in the area in suitable accommodation. 

Any suggestion that people should be grateful for what they are offered should not be tolerated. 

Counselling and therapy services need to be offered as standard to anyone in the area impacted by what has occurred. Let us not forget many witnessed horrendous scenes and have lost friends.  
History, though leads to concerns that enquiries and cover ups can go on for decades. There is something about this situation which feels like Hillsborough to me, a feeling that the fight for justice here will not be easy and that nothing will change without a real fight.  

Indeed lessons could have been learnt after the Lakanal Tower block Fire in Southwark in 2009 which killed 6. 

Recommendations followed in 2013 but were never implemented, including one to fit sprinkler systems in all tower blocks. 

Lessons about outsourcing, which leads to responsibility and ultimately blame being diluted must be examined. But more than anything I hope we see a change in this attitude that some lives are worth more than others and that profit is worth endangering life for.

Everyone needs to stand up for this for us to have any hope of change.
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Isn’t It About Time We Tried A Holistic Approach To Mental Wellbeing? By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Mental health problems are the scourge of our time. 

Around one in four adults in England is diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. This includes depression (3.3 million people are currently diagnosed with this), eating disorders, psychosis, personality disorder and anxiety. 

The NHS spends around £11.7 billion on mental health, including £400 million on drugs every year. But all indicators are that this is woefully inadequate and terrifyingly 57% of Clinical Commissioning Groups planned to reduce their spending on mental health services this year.  

I fear we will make no progress in improving the overall mental health of citizens in this country whilst we continue to rely solely on a heavily stretched medical model to fix the problem. 

That is not to say that I am not absolutely in favour of increasing the mental health treatment budget (indeed I am a trainee counsellor). However I think we need to start looking at mental health in a holistic way. 

To quote a well known leaflet by charity Mind “good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do.”

So I am cheered by the publication of the report Creative Health: 

‘The Arts for Health and Wellbeing from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/

The report found that arts-led alternatives to conventional therapy and medicine could serve as effective treatments for many mental health issues. 

Some of the findings conclude that:
Music therapy reduces agitation and need for medication in 67% of people with dementia.

● An arts-on-prescription project has shown a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions. This represents a saving of £216 per patient.

Arts therapies have been found to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress while increasing resilience and wellbeing.

● Visual and performing arts in healthcare environments help to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.

The heart rate of newborn babies is calmed by the playing of lullabies. The use of live music in neonatal intensive care leads to considerably reduced hospital stays.

● A 10-week art and craft programme with mothers experiencing anxiety and their children saw a 77 percent reduction in anxiety and depression and an 86 percent reduction in stress. The bonds between mothers and children improved, and the emotional, social and cognitive development of the children was stimulated.

None of these things sound unattainable to roll out across the country do they? 

I suggest that rather than finances being the problem, what is needed is a change in culture and an acceptance that mental wellbeing is something that requires investment and that should be addressed through multiple disciplines. 

Is one reason that mental health is not addressed in this way because the Ministry of Health works in a silo? 

Could an approach of working with the Department of Culture could have greater success?  
Is it possible this problem is compounded by an attitude that persists that art is something to be enjoyed by the privileged?

The proportion of GDP spent on the arts by the government remains below the European average

This was recognised in the Labour Party manifesto with a promise to rectify this and introduce an arts pupil premium for every primary school pupil, in line with the existing PE pupil premium. 

Announcing the policy Jeremy Corbyn said :

“There is creativity in all of us but we need to give people the opportunities for this creativity to flourish.”

Art based activity (including drama and music) is repeatedly shown to cut stress even if the person is not good at it!!

Therefore it is logical to assume that a if society gave people of every age access to art then they would have less mental health issues.  
Continuing with the theme of looking at holistic approach to wellbeing, last year Natural England published a study which reviewed the benefits and outcomes of approaches to green care for mental ill-health. Nature is known to be one of the most reliable boosts to mental health.

However it has strangely become less accessible to people as we spend more times in offices, cars and generally trapped indoors. 80% of people in England agree that the quality of the built environment influences the way they feel yet our environments are typically becoming more urbanised and our leisure time increasingly spent inside. 

It is unsurprising that as people live in increasingly overcrowded housing and towns that mental well being suffers. We know access to parks, rivers and natural improves lives: people who live in the areas within our cities and towns that have more green or blue space have better mental health.
 
As with art, a new approach is needed to ensure people of all ages are able to access and enjoy outdoor living. The evidence for this being of benefit is plentiful. For example:
Spending just 15 minutes a day in nature can boost focus and ease anxiety.

● From a mindfulness perspective being in nature helps us to become present.

Children who play outside are more physically active, which helps prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues

● Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

It is a failing of our society that mental health remains so neglected in terms of recognition, treatment and approach. 

Let’s see a truly comprehensive integrated approach, across government departments and across all organisations including employers, aimed at improving emotional wellbeing. 

It is quite evident that such an approach and investment in relevant projects would save money and would lead to happier people, surely that should be the real goal of our community?


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Dear Mr Clegg: Austerity Is Not The Victim In All Of This!!! And There Is An Alternative…

Nick Clegg has criticised Corbyn and Labour for “Demonising Austerity” . This will no doubt anger many of us but worryingly it will probably fuel the fire of those that support austerity measures. 

He has personified austerity. As if austerity is a defenceless being that has feelings. 
So let us take a look at the meaning of the word austerity. 

** Spoiler Alert – Austerity is not an actual person **


The truth is that austerity has been falsely used.

True austerity would mean cut backs in all government spending including MPs salaries but that hasn’t happened has it?

The average basic income for an MP increased from £67,000 a year in 2015 (the year they won the election and got into power without the Lib Dems) has rose to £74,000. A whopping 10% !! Hardly ‘tightening our belts’.

Well perhaps they can console themselves that they solved the deficit problem, which surely was the reasons they introduced austerity in the first place? But that hasn’t happened either.

In fact the deficit has increased by 53% (and that is taking into account inflation, otherwise the figure would be much higher).


** Provided by FullFact.org

So what exactly has austerity ‘achieved?’
If you can call a 134% increase in homelessness, a rise in the deficit, a pay cap on public sector workers so severe that now 17% of nurses now have to rely on foodbanks an ‘achievement’ then yes it has achieved something.

The biggest ‘badge of honour’ that austerity has achieved is the UN finding that the Human Rights of disabled people has been violated by austerity.  That is surely something to write home about?

If Nick Clegg would like to point out exactly what  positive outcomes austerity has achieved, then I will gladly listen to him. Because I don’t understand how can you ‘demonise’ a severe economic policy that has left millions in poverty. 

What about the feelings of families that have to choose between eating and heating? Do their feelings not matter?
Many of those in favour of austerity may cry well how do we deal with the economic problem that we have following the Global Crash of 2008? 

Well there is an alternative…

Perhaps we need to think outside of the box that is Neoliberalism, we have afterall been in this situation before. 

The Great Depression of 1931 was followed by austerity and a World War that plunged many of the poor into even worse conditions than they were already living in.
Similarly, the Global Crash of 2008 and subsequent recession led to the introduction of austerity measures in 2010, and an increase in poverty.

Has no one learned yet that tightening our belts after an economic crisis does not work?

On the back of the austerity that followed the Depression, Labour Party created the Beveridge Report of 1942, which set out a grand vision of public spending much like the Labour Manifesto of 2017 did. It provided an alternative to austerity and eventually it was accepted and proved very popular. It led to a landslide victory for Labour and the creation of NHS and the Welfare State. After years of austerity and changed the social and economic landscape of the UK for the better and it was just what everyone needed.

So when will we learn from previous mistakes and eventual victories?

The Crash could have been avoided. Remember, it was caused by the over inflation and free market economics, much like 1931. Keynesian economics would have controlled the over inflation that preceded the 2008 crash and would have opposed austerity measures that followed. 

Keynesianism is an economic theory that works on the belief that economic demand determines economic output, in other words the more the public are willing and able to spend, the better the economy will perform. And this means investing more into public spending, not less . If the public have more money to spend the economy recovers quickly. If the public are skint and poor, how on earth can they spend anything? It’s quite logical really! 

Today we see that austerity has not reduced the debt but that the government are quite happy to spend generously when it suits them with the £1 billion DUP deal, so how long can we live under a false austerity?
The Tories voted against the public sector pay cap only a fortnight ago, flying in the face of hopes of an end to austerity. 

The optimist in me however, would like to think that we are on the brink of a radical change for the better and that it is only matter of time before we have a government that rejected austerity.

For now though if Nick Clegg wants to defend and personify austerity then we should treat austerity as a person.

And in that case (Mr or Mrs) Austerity should be punished by the UN for its’ Human Right Violations and stand trial for fraud. It has been lying to us all from that start.


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My Open Letter to The PM About How Austerity Affected My Childs’ Mental Health

By Lisa Mulholland 

Dear Prime Minister  

I feel compelled to give you an insight into how austerity has affected my family.  
Tonight, I sit here in despair, anxious about tomorrow and what the day will bring. I wonder what battles I will have to fight tomorrow to ensure that the eldest of my three children has access to a service that everyone is entitled to; an adequate education.  

What strings am I going to have to pull tomorrow? 

How on earth am I going to manipulate the system this week, just to get a fair chance at a place at a school that meets his needs, or to get access to mental health service, or health service for that matter?

I wonder what tactics I’m going to have to resort to this week. Yes. This week. The overwhelming challenges change weekly. These are the things that are going to keep me awake tonight.  

You see, my 11-year-old son is high functioning autistic. He also has ADHD, dyspraxia and some possible mental health issues. He is what the paediatricians would call ‘complex’.  

They have a 2-year waiting list just to diagnose a child with autism.
I know this because my youngest child is on that waiting list. It’s a pretty confusing place to be, pretty desolate, pretty frustrating. Not at all pretty really.  

My eldest needs to be treated by CAMHS. But In some parts of Kent there is a 5-month waiting list for children or teenagers that need ‘urgent’ treatment. By urgent I mean suicidal. I know this because the poor receptionist at CAMHS has told me so. She must deal with many desperate parents daily.  

I am lucky that I have only waited 8 weeks for my ‘urgent’ referral to CAMHS.  So here I am, feeling lucky.
Waiting for the paediatrician to plead with CAMHS to treat my anxious son. They are overstretched and are trying to pass my son onto the paediatric services. So, they are now in a battle, and my son is piggy in the middle. 

Even after referrals from the ADHD nurse, GP and a paediatrician working the night shift at A and E (yes, we ended up in A &E when his panic attack prevented him from being able to breathe) we have waited and the problem has escalated. 

He cannot leave the house without having a panic attack.  The only school that is suitable and can possibly meet his needs also have a long and difficult history and they are wary of taking him on. The children that attend that school are very vulnerable and have also been pushed from pillar to post. Getting a place in a specialist school, especially this one, is not straightforward.  

You see their funding was cut last year and they were to be closed permanently. They were saved at the last minute but they are now under very high pressure to perform better and stay open. Can they afford to waste a precious place on my son who might not be able to manage there? 

Tomorrow my anxious, autistic son who desperately wants to go to school, who desperately wants to go to university, must swallow his anxiety, crush all his fears, put two failed school placements behind him and go and spend a day at this school (without the promise of a place).  
He must try his utmost best to convince them that he fits their criteria. I know they do not want him there. I haven’t told him this. I have had to give him many pep talks tonight. We have had tears, self -harm and panic attacks and the night is only just beginning. 
I know I won’t sleep. He may wake several times with night terrors tonight. Who knows what will happen.  
Nevertheless, I will get up in the morning and pray he holds it together long enough for them to see that he is worth teaching. I will then come home and call CAMHS and plead with them to treat my son for this anxiety that is preventing him from leaving the house and getting an education.  

It isn’t CAMHS fault, it isn’t the Schools’ fault, it isn’t the local authorities fault and it is not the paediatricians’ fault.  
Who is to blame?  

It isn’t my son.  

It isn’t me. 

I did not ask to have an autistic child in a time where services are on their knees and schools cannot cope with children like mine. Where funding for schools, and all NHS Services have been slashed. Who would have imagined services in the 6th richest nation in the world would get this bad? 

Crippling cuts to services under the guise of a false ‘austerity’ is not the way forward. It is merely an ideological tool that suits your agenda but not ours. 

But it’s not YOUR money to spend as you see fit!! We have paid for services via tax and national insurance and we aren’t receiving them. It is OUR money and we deserve the services we pay for.  

You represent us, you work for us. You cannot do that without understanding us, the people. 

Democracy is supposed to be “For the People, Of the People and By the People”. 

Yours 

Lisa 

A mum, a voter, a volunteer, a campaigner.

 

Lisa’s letter attracted the attention of the BBC and eventually her letter was read out to the Director Of CAMHS. To find out what happened next please click here:

https://theavengeruk.com/2017/09/18/my-letter-to-the-pm-about-my-childs-mental-health-got-an-unexpected-response/