UK PM promises cash aid for tower fire survivors as anger mounts

2017-06-19 10:34:45 | From:http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2017-06/19/content_29795447.htm

LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday afternoon responded to mounting public anger and announced wide and detailed support for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.

May has been under increasing pressure since the extent of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in West London became apparent.

A blaze at the 24-storey concrete social-housing tower in the Kensington district of the city killed at least 58 people, according to the latest figure from the London Metropolitan Police. The figure is expected to rise.

May said in a statement on Sunday afternoon: "As we continue to respond to the needs of the community, our focus is on ensuring that all of those affected by this unimaginable tragedy get the right support as quickly as possible.

"My government will continue to do absolutely everything possible to help all of those affected through the difficult days, weeks, months and years ahead."

May has been increasingly criticized since Thursday when she visited the disaster scene but talked only to senior officials in charge of the rescue efforts.

A further two visits to the area by May were criticized as inadequate, because she did not publicly meet survivors.

May held a two and a half hour meeting with survivors and community leaders on Saturday morning in her Downing Street home, and the announcement on Sunday of detailed plans to help survivors and residents is a response to that meeting.

In a press statement issued on Sunday evening, the survivors and residents who met May on Saturday said: "We are angry about the inadequacy of the response and the longstanding neglect of our buildings by the council and building management.

"We are grateful to the prime minister for listening to us and for the assurances she has given us but now we need to see real action and immediate results with centralised coordination of the relief effort with residents closely involved.

The survivors and residents also called for the government to take a serious look at the "neglect and chronic underfunding of social housing over decades".

 

FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR SURVIVORS

May pledged that each household destroyed by the fire would get 5,500 pounds (about 7045 US dollars) from a five million pound aid fund.

The aid fund would also meet funeral costs, and top up payments for those households with complex or additional needs. The fund under be kept review and will increase if necessary, said May.

In addition May pledged to pay the legal costs of survivors at the public inquiry into the disaster which she announced on Saturday, and that the cost of temporary housing for all survivors would be met.

May also said the government would fund emergency mental health support to the tune of 1.5 million pounds.

 

CRITICISM OVER GOVERNMENT REACTION

May's response and that of her government has been criticized in media, by the public and by politicians.

The Independent newspaper ran a story saying "Ministers 'ignored warnings on fire safety' before Grenfell Tower inferno".

The government-supporting Daily Telegraph ran a story saying that the cladding used in the refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower in 2016 was illegal if used on buildings taller than 10 meters. Grenfell Tower is 67 meters high.

The main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called for more action to help survivors with housing. Kensington is the richest part of London, with a significant number of homes owned by the very wealthy kept empty.

"There are a large number of deliberately kept vacant flats and properties all over London, it's called land banking. People with a lot of money but a house, buy a flat, keep it empty," said Corbyn, who called for the local council to requisition the empty homes for fire survivors.

In the Kensington district, Christians held outdoor prayer services in the morning to remember the dead, and Muslim services were held at a mosque in the afternoon in both English and Arabic for Muslims and non-Muslims.

The services drew crowds in their hundreds, despite temperatures of 30 degrees centigrade.

Criticism has also been made of the local authority reaction to the fire.

The response of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) the local municipal authority was labelled inadequate and poorly organized by opposition politicians on the council, and national political leaders for the first time called for the resignation of the RBKC leader and his senior management team.

The Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey said: "There are growing questions for the Conservative-run council, both about the lead-up to the fire but crucially now in the terrible aftermath.

"This is a fiasco built on a tragedy, and the council leader, like the prime minister, does not appear to be getting to grips with the crisis. If he is incapable of doing so, he should go." (One pound = 1.28 US dollars)

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