20. Jun, 2017


I have always been proud of my parent’s generation. It was they who played a major role in the defeat of fascism to establish a Welfare State.

In 1942, the architect of the latter, Sir William Beveridge, saw the state provision of care from “Cradle to Grave” not as a problem but a task. His report advocated war on the Five Giant Evils of society…
Too many people living below the poverty line,
Too many children left school at fourteen with no qualifications and went into dead end jobs.
Many people lived in overcrowded slums with a shortage of good houses.
Unemployment was high before the war and was the major cause of poverty.

At the time and since this has been interpreted as meaning full employment and making the state provision of homes (as opposed to houses) for those in need; health, education, transport so good that no one in their right mind would want to go private.

These aspirations were brought into sharp and tragic focus this past week with the terrible disaster at the Grenfell Tower high rise building in Kensington. Kernsington-where some of the poorest in the land live within sight of some of the richest.

The following song by Leon Rosselson sums up the situation perfectly…

If the sons of company directors,
And judges’ private daughters,
Had to go to school in a slum school,
Dumped by some joker in a damp back alley,
Had to herd into classrooms cramped with worry,
With a view onto slagheaps and stagnant pools.
Had to file through corridors grey with age,
And play in a crackpot concrete cage.


Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Buttons would be pressed,
Rules would be broken.
Strings would be pulled
And magic words spoken.
Invisible fingers would mould
Palaces of gold.

If prime ministers and advertising executives,
Royal personages and bank managers’ wives
Had to live out their lives in dank rooms,
Blinded by smoke and the foul air of sewers,
Rot on the walls and rats in the cellars,
In rows of dumb houses like mouldering tombs,
Had to bring up their children and watch them grow In a wasteland of dead streets where nothing will grow.

I’m not suggesting any kind of a plot
Everyone knows there’s not,
But you unborn millions might like to be warned
That if you don’t want to be buried alive by slagheaps,
Pit-falls and damp walls and rat-traps and dead streets,
Arrange to be democratically born
The son of a company director
Or a judge’s fine and private daughter.

I am more than aware that the post industrial urban landscape has changed since this song was written many years ago but its main thrust is as true now as it was then…as proven by events this past week in the Royal Borough of Kensington.