IN 21st century Britain, in the richest borough in London, working class children are being diagnosed with diseases and ailments that belong in the slums of the 19th century.
These are the shocking findings revealed in a report compiled by the Labour MP for Kensington and Chelsea, Emma Dent Coad, a report she compiled in the wake of the Grenfell Tower block fire that killed an estimated 80 people.
The report is a damning document that shows the true extent of poverty rife in the borough sitting alongside the obscene wealth of the oligarchs and super-rich who own properties in Chelsea and Kensington.
The report ‘After Grenfell’ reveals that multiple children were hospitalised with hypocalceamic shock, a condition caused by a lack of calcium. One child in the borough has recently been diagnosed with rickets, the old Victorian disease caused by malnutrition, while adults have been diagnosed with TB.
These are the diseases of extreme poverty. While the rich shop at Harrods many families rely on the four food banks in the borough. This huge disparity in health between the richest parts of the Tory-controlled borough is starkly shown in the life expectancy rates.
In the affluent parts like Knightsbridge, male life expectancy can be as high as 94 – near Grenfell Tower and the poorer pockets where working class families have been dumped, the average male life expectancy is 72. This figure of 72 is a drop of 6 years since 2010; the year the Tories started their austerity war against the working class to cut wages and smash the benefit system.
A total of 4,500 children live in poverty in the borough while the figures for homeless households forced to live in temporary accommodation stands at 2,354, including 376 households made homeless by the Grenfell fire and still not re-housed 5 months after the tragedy.
At the same time as Kensington and Chelsea boasts a massive number of long term empty homes, 1,200 in total, with 9,300 second homes, it has only managed to rehouse 26 Grenfell families!
In one street alone in one of the wealthy areas, seven out of ten are second homes or are empty. They have been bought purely as investment opportunities, largely by overseas buyers. One recent development at 375 Kensington High Street sold just 8% to registered UK buyers – 45% refused to reveal any country of residence.
More than 6,000 homes in the borough are owned by companies registered in tax havens.These properties are bought up by individuals and corporations purely as financial assets to be left empty while their prices shoot up, while working class families are condemned to sub-standard temporary accommodation in a borough where the Tory council has built just ten social homes since 1990! It did manage to spend £30 million on a loss-making Holland Opera Park project, since cancelled with the loss of a further £5 million.
Dent Coad said in her report: ‘I have often stated that Kensington and Chelsea, where I was born and bred, is a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong in our country in the past few years.
‘The proximity of huge wealth attracted by an over-heated international property market unencumbered by taxes, alongside poverty so extreme that children and older people are suffering malnutrition, is a scandal that brings shame on our society in 21st Century London.’
Very true but the question is what to do to end this shame? Clearly appeals to the Tory council or government will produce nothing, they serve a capitalist system that has only one priority – to make as much profit as possible and if workers starve are made homeless or die in fires caused by cost cutting, then that is a price the capitalist class is more than willing to pay.
The way forward is for workers to organise in Councils of Action to take over and occupy these empty properties in Kensington and Chelsea and in every city. These Councils of Action will be the base for demanding the TUC call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers government and socialism where the land is nationalised along with the industry and the banks. This is the only way forward for workers today.