The Grenfell Tower Fire has brought to the surface the sad reality of wealth inequality under Capitalism.
Scenes from the Grenfell Tower fire coverage continues to distress the country. Shocking accounts of witnesses and residents describing how they loss their loved ones and escaped the fire themselves, have been etched into the memory of the United Kingdom. But the most disconcerting reality people are having to live with is that this tragedy could have been avoided.
Whilst there have been dozens of community testimonies describing the lack of fire safety, the inferno has also brought into light the gaping inequality between rich and poor. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are of the most affluent areas in the world, yet this man-made disaster took place upon poor people living in the same place.
The borough is among London’s most unequal, with extreme poverty and wealth living side by side. Data shows that the vicinity of the tower was among the top 10% most deprived areas in England in 2015, ranking alongside parts of Bradford and south Tyneside.
According to the English Indices of Deprivation, there were 11 so-called lower super output areas (LSOAs) in Kensington and Chelsea that ranked in the poorest decile in the country. On the other hand, 14 areas in the local authority were among the 30% least deprived.
The data also revealed that Grenfell Tower and its surroundings are in the most deprived 20% of areas in England for employment and living environment. Also, the most deprived 30% for health deprivation and disability and the most deprived 40% for crime
Residents in places like Grenfell Tower do not enjoy the same privileges like their other wealthy neighbours are granted. Residents repeatedly voiced concerns about fire safety in Grenfell Tower, including that there was only one escape route and no building-wide fire alarm or sprinkler system. They say their concerns were “brushed away” by the Kensington and Chelsea tenant management organisation, which manages thousands of properties for the council.
One of the main reasons for this economic inequality is because the rich have huge influence upon political leadership and political institutions. British government’s have overwhelmingly served the interests of the wealthy to the detriment of ordinary people. The concerns of the poor like those at Grenfell Tower were ignored but this is not the same for the wealthy in the borough.
The rich have been able to preserve such a status quo as the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the best housing and surroundings to live. Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, privilege and disadvantage will continue down the generations.
The idea that wealth will simply trickle-down automatically to the poor, by focusing on growth, has proven to be false. Today eight people own the same amount of wealth as half of the world’s population. This stark reality isn’t simply due to policy, it’s due to the flawed Capitalism system that’s built upon a flawed economic philosophy.
In contrast to Capitalism, where the aim of the game is to produce the most wealth, the primary aim of the Islamic economic system is to fulfil the basic needs of society by ensuring the circulation of wealth. Its goal is to ensure that the basic needs of every citizen are fulfilled, not simply to create perpetual economic growth that only some people benefit from.
Moreover, Islam does not allow the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. Islam has a wealth based taxation system that ensures only those with surplus wealth are taxed. According to the rules of Shariah by implementing the Zakat system, rules of distribution of lands, prohibiting hoarding and interests (riba), Islam will close the door of unjust accumulation of wealth definitively.
Islam will ensure fair distribution of wealth through strict Shariah principals so that economic development will be enjoyed by the society as a whole. It was the system of the Khilafah which freed people from the never-ending misery of man-made economies in and led them to a life where their basic needs like housing were fulfilled.
Islam does not tolerate gross division in society where one group of people enjoy profits and other people do not have their basic living conditions met. It will also not permit putting profits over safety as we have seen with the Grenfell tower where cheaper material was used that was more flammable so that the more money could be saved.
Grenfell Tower will no doubt trigger a national debate. As Muslims, our duty is to ensure Islam as an alternative way of life is presented as part of this debate.
مَّا أَفَاءَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْقُرَىٰ فَلِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ وَلِذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ كَيْ لَا يَكُونَ دُولَةً بَيْنَ الْأَغْنِيَاءِ مِنكُمْ ۚ وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
“And what Allah restored to His Messenger from the people of the towns – it is for Allah and for the Messenger and for [his] near relatives and orphans and the [stranded] traveler – so that it will not be a perpetual distribution among the rich from among you. And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” [Al- Hashr 59:7]