A Tale Of Two Cities

Chris Holmes, the former director of Shelter, concluded that ‘housing poverty is now the most extreme form of social inequality in Britain, with those who experience the greatest inequalities being those living on housing estates.’ (1)

When neighbours in Khlong Toey ask me about England the conversation often turns to how people affected by poverty are treated in my home country:

‘But you don’t have slums in England, do you?’ 


‘The English government looks after people and gives free money and houses, doesn’t it?’



The more I read about the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, the more I feel that the problems I live amongst here in a Bangkok slum are the same as the problems behind the Grenfell fire.

Last night I was having this conversation with a neighbour. She was asking about what she had seen on the news.

‘Who lived in Grenfell Tower?’

‘Poor people’

‘Really? I thought only rich people lived in towers! But they want to live there, right?’

‘No, not really. It is probably the only housing available for them. People who are poor from fleeing horrors elsewhere in the world, poor from chronic illnesses like mental health problems and addiction, poor from lack of decent education and job opportunities. (2) In one London tower block estate 80% of the residents wanted it pulled down, they don’t want to be living there but have no choice’ (3)

‘That’s just like here in the slum.’


‘But I thought London was a rich city?’

‘It is mixed, and often poor people are grouped together in certain areas.

The rich people living around the tower did not want to look at it’s ugly appearance and be reminded of the poor quality housing, so the tower was covered in a pretty face. A flammable pretty face which caused the fire to spread quickly.

The inside has decayed over years of neglect. The fire safety was inadequate. It seems that suitable, safe housing for the poor is not a priority in England.’

‘That’s just like here in the slum.’


‘So England can’t afford to help poor people?’

‘Um.. well actually the rich borough in which Grenfell Tower is found has been making such effective cuts to it’s services for poor people that it has been handing out the underspent surplus money to the richer people. (4) The money seems to be there, just not the care for the people who need it most.’

‘That’s just like here in the slum.’


‘But the people affected will be helped out, won’t they?’

‘While people are interested there will be care and charity.. but the underlying injustices probably won’t be a priority to address.’

‘That’s just like here in the slum.’


All over the world we are failing to provide for our most vulnerable. This is worth shouting about.

I am reminded of Isaiah hearing the Lord’s assessment of his nation:


Your country is desolate,

your cities burned with fire;

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1: 7, 17


What action could we take, locally or nationally, to seek justice?


  1. https://capx.co/the-trouble-with-tower-blocks/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/16/grenfell-britain-fails-migrants-north-kensington-london-refugee?CMP=fb_gu
  3. https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/create-streets/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/16/my-council-tax-rebate-from-kensington-and-chelsea-is-blood-money



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