A Kensington Local Gave Their Tax Rebate To The Victims Of The Grenfell Tower Fire

Top rate council tax-payers were offered a £100 rebate whilst those claiming support (or on discounted bills) weren't eligible

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The magnitude of the tragic Grenfell tower fire is still unfolding.

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With the death toll rising, Lily Allen reportedly taken off Newsnight after claiming she was told the number of fatalities was estimated to be around 150, new stories of whether cladding was illegal circulating, both victims, locals and the general public's mourning is turning into anger and disgust.

Many people are blaming the fire on the personal greed of privatized businesses who look after public housing, as well as the Conservative government's financial policy of austerity since David Cameron's election in 2010.

One person who has stood forward to suggest that that the economy is unfairly skewed to aid the rich, whilst inadvertedly punishing the poor for their poverty, is an anonymous resident of the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

We know that this borough is one of the richest in London (which, in turn is one of the most affluent cities in the world), so how is wealth distributed within it?

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One writer wrote of how they received a £100 tax rebate from their council in 2014, due to the borough's 'efficiency' in handling their cash whilst 'improving services'.

They noted that you only received this tax rebate if you were paying full tax i.e. not if you had discounted bills or council tax support, given to you if you can't afford to pay it (for whatever reason). In other words, the borough is actively rewarding those who are most affluent for their cash.

According to the letter, Kensington and Chelsea, which has been Conservative up until the most recent election, has 'been running huge underspends' which have given them a £42m surplus budget.

The writer explains:

In 2014, I received my Kensington and Chelsea council tax bill and a letter from the leader of the council, Nicholas Paget-Brown, explaining that all residents who pay council tax in full would 'receive a one-off payment of £100'. This bonus was due to the council's careful management of its finances over the years, 'consistently delivering greater efficiencies while improving services'. Austerity, K&C style: you give to the rich while taking from the poor (nobody with discounted bills or claiming council tax support was eligible to share in the bounty of the blue-chips).

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The writer claims that this system is bribe-like in that it ensures a Conservative vote from the wealthiest residents, of which there are a lot of in the borough.

They go on:

In May 2014, the local election returned a huge majority of Conservative councillors. Business as usual. For years, the Royal Borough has got away with bribing the electorate with its own money. For years, the Royal Borough has been running huge underspends in its revenue budgets which it then transfers into capital reserves. The underpinned in 2016-17 adult services budget alone is £1.9m. Apparently, adult services in the are are doing so well they don't need the money. And every other social service must be performing brilliantly, as the council's projected reserves of £167m by the end of 2016-17 has climbed to a staggering £209m - that's £42m surplus to requirements. How many sprinkler systems is that?

Despite the tower's £10m overhaul last year, many unconfirmed rumors are flying about suggesting the fire alarms were not functioning, the fire escapes/exits unclear, that there were no sprinkler systems in place and that the cladding (which is meant to be for insulation, but many have suggested was actually to make the block more aesthetically pleasing for nearby luxury flats) was £5000 cheaper (all together) than it's inflammable counterpart.

There has been an outpouring of support from across London and the country and people have been donating cash, food, clothing and more to the people who have lost their homes.

The government has promised rehousing within 3 weeks and given £5m immediately for the survivors to use.

However, various claims on social media have suggested that some victims have been asked to move as far as Preston (in Lancashire), as well as claims that people have not had access to the Government-given cash or been given only £10 a day to survive.

The letter continues:

As the toxic ash of Grenfell Tower's vanity cladding falls over the neighboring streets, we are left with the acrid truth in out throats: regeneration in the Royal Borough is in fact a crime of greed and selfishness. I took the refund. And then I forgot about it, until the smoke drifting into my flat in the early hours of Wednesday woke me up. Yesterday, I gave it back. It wasn't even mine to keep. I handed it over in cash to a vicar running a refuge for the victims of the fire in a local church. I explained that it was not a donation, not a charitable act, that it was guilt money.

The letter was titled, 'My local tax rebate is blood money', and whether or not you agree with the specific politics of the letter, there is much to be said for the emotion of it.

You can read the letter to the Guardian here.

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