No-one should be made to feel like a second class citizen because of where they call home

The remains of Grenfell Tower: a scar on London. Image: Getty.

Seven months on from the Grenfell fire and we don’t yet truly know what will change. The lives of the survivors and our community, certainly: affected indelibly and forever. We will never forget those we lost. The public inquiry is in place and we await to see the lines of questioning adopted and the conclusions it reaches.

But how much the tragedy will change our attitudes and behaviours as a country is still very uncertain. We simply do not yet know whether what happened and what we have seen will change our attitude to social housing and to communities like ours.  

The terrible tragedy also brought out the best in so many. In the aftermath I was part of a community devastated by tragedy that also came together to help so many who were in need. From the volunteers who came to my church and many other centres to hand out food and water, to those with legal expertise who have given their time in the months that follow to offer representation and advice to hundreds of families affected, we have shared a determination that the survivors would not be on their own in their grief.

As our community seeks to rebuild, so too must the whole country look to understand what happened and to find strength from despair. The public inquiry will look in depth at the causes of the fire and the response of the emergency services. But what of the bigger questions, the questions for our society that were posed by what we saw in Grenfell?


Grenfell residents have talked about feeling not listened to and like second class citizens: their voices are too easily dismissed by those in positions of power. While worrying, this is not unique. The experience of those in North Kensington have been echoed by many right across the country who feel the same way.

And Grenfell faith and community leaders, including myself, have talked about those in social housing being stigmatised. But we are reflecting a national problem, not something unique to our particular corner of West London. 

As someone who believes passionately in the role social housing can play in our society, these problems trouble me deeply. We must not miss the opportunity to address these problems. The debate which we promised each other would happen in the weeks after the fire must take place.

So it is to address these deeper questions of power, of community and about the future of social housing that, with the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, we are establishing an independent commission. We don’t start it knowing all the answers and our commissioners are not experts but truth seekers. We hope to find answers through a process which involves as many people as possible, from every region. We believe we need a big conversation involving all those in social housing, all those who need it and all those who live in and around it to chart a better way forward.

No-one should ever be made to feel like a second class citizen because of where they live or where they call home. We need a fresh look at all these questions and we need a new future for social housing which reflects the views of all those who can benefit from it. I hope all those who are able to contribute to this important new commission will do so, so that together we can help shape a better future for us all.

Rev. Mike Long is the minister of Notting Hill Methodist Church and the chair of Shelter’s Big Conversation on social housing.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.