Residents of a deprived London borough remember queen fondly

But some question the cost of a state funeral at a time of rising inflation.

Banner marking the queen's death
A banner marking the queen's death hangs in the middle of Whitechapel Market [Edna Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

London, England – As the late Queen Elizabeth II lies in state at Westminster Hall, people go about their business in Tower Hamlets, one of London’s most deprived boroughs.

The area, in the capital’s east, suffered some of the United Kingdom’s highest rates of COVID during the pandemic and shop signs still ask customers to wear masks and socially distance.

The long Commercial Road is busy with many visiting the clothing and fabric wholesalers the street is famous for, and others shopping for food.

“As long as I’ve lived in the country, she’s ruled it,” 50-year-old Zana, a women’s fashion wholesaler, told Al Jazeera.

With the Union Jack bunting he put up to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee hanging above him, he added that he is considering braving the crowds to pay his respects at the state funeral on Monday, which has been declared a national holiday.

Like most business owners across the country, Zana will close his shop as the monarch is laid to rest.

“I’ve lived here for half of my life so it was very sad.

“She was 96 years old and reigned for 70 years … you have to pay respect.”

Enam, who works at the aptly named shop Funky Queen, also told Al Jazeera that he was saddened by the news of Elizabeth’s passing and will be closing his shop on Monday.

But opinion is divided here, where researchers say poverty “is nothing short of an emergency”.

Eric, 26, who works at a vape shop in Bethnal Green, said that while the Queen’s death “hit me a little”, he feels frustrated that taxpayers’ money is being spent on an elaborate funeral at a time of extreme inflation and a looming energy crisis.

“We are going through what is called a cost-of-living crisis. Everything is expensive. Food has gone up in price,” he told Al Jazeera.

It is not yet known how much the event will cost, but state funerals are publicly funded. The queen mother’s funeral in 2002 was said to have cost about 5.4 million pounds ($6.21m).

Shop window with Covid safety signs.
Tower Hamlets experienced some of the highest rates of COVID cases during the pandemic [Edna Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

The queen’s death has also restarted a conversation about freedom of speech and the right to protest in Britain, as several anti-royal protesters have been arrested.

Among them was a man who heckled Andrew, the queen’s son, who was accused of sexually abusing an American teenager.

Even so, Zana said, “it’s very disrespectful”.

“I think if my mother died and I’m following the coffin, and somebody’s swearing at me, I might just go out there and punch them in the face,” he said.

On Wednesday, the opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said that protesters should not “ruin” mourners’ experiences.

However, civil rights campaign group Liberty tweeted that protesting is not a gift from the state, but rather “a fundamental right”.

Picture of Zana
Zana, who owns a shop by the same name, says he will try to join crowds at the state funeral [Edna Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

And as the country prepares to grind to a halt on Monday, social inequalities have been laid bare.

Some food banks or donation centres, for instance, have announced their closure on September 19, a move which will deprive poor families further.

Meanwhile, hospital appointments have been cancelled, at a time when waiting lists are incredibly long amid the country’s post-pandemic reopening.

Schools will close, and while some parents will be granted a day off from their jobs, others in certain key-worker roles will not.

Whitechapel market
Many at the Whitechapel Market, where Asian ingredients are sold, spoke fondly of the late monarch [Edna Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

Still, as the queue to view the queen’s coffin grew longer, Zana called on critics to forget about the funeral’s price tag.

“Every year she brings in billions of pounds’ revenue into this country,” he said. “She’s the queen and she owns the whole country. If the nation disagrees, then they can change the model to Republican.”

Source: Al Jazeera