As we draw ever closer to voting day, we begin a week of examining London's poverty problems with an introduction by Mubin Haq, Director of Policy and Grants at Trust for London, a charitable organisation which tackles poverty and inequality in the capital.
London is a world city, but one which is unaffordable for many of us who live here. Yes there’s wealth, but so much is in the hands of a few. Whilst the poorest half of Londoners have less than 5% of financial or property wealth, the richest 10% have 40% of income wealth, 45% of property wealth and 65% of financial wealth. No surprise then that a penthouse in Knightsbridge can sell for an eye-watering £140 million.
Poverty is at alarming levels in London, significantly higher than any other region in England, and sadly no progress has been made over the last decade. Over two million Londoners are living in poverty and as recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows, this is projected to increase even further.
Many Londoners move in and out of poverty but the experience can have long lasting and damaging effects. On the positive side there is much that can be done to change this and the Mayor has a key leadership role as well as direct powers to tackle this issue.
Trust for London has been working with a coalition of charities including Save the Children, Child Poverty Action Group, Shelter and Daycare Trust to look at what the new mayor could do, specifically focussing on child poverty. Our manifesto to the candidates outlines a number of challenges London’s families face and has 15 straight-forward and achievable policies which could make a real difference
Creating family friendly work is critical. Work remains the main route out of poverty though low pay is a problem as is the lack of part-time jobs which would allow more parents to access employment. We are calling on the next mayor to use their influence to sign up 1,000 employers to a new family friendly scheme. These employers would offer all vacancies on a flexible basis and they would commit to paying a London Living Wage which is currently £8.30.
Linked to this is the need for affordable childcare. The high costs of childcare are a significant deterrent to work and support for this is essential if parents are to work, train or study in order to escape poverty. We are calling on the next mayor to put pressure on central government to get a better deal for London’s families, which meet the much higher costs of childcare in the capital.
Getting the right support is vital too. Too few of us know what we are entitled to and the GLA estimates £1 billion in financial support goes unclaimed each year. With so many changes to welfare benefits we want to make sure the poorest Londoners don’t lose out and don’t have to turn to high cost lenders and loan sharks. We want the next mayor to lead a campaign against this kind of lending and to promote fairer forms of finance.
Finally, we need urgent action on housing and this is an area the mayor has significant and new powers which can tackle high rent levels and overcrowding. The high cost of housing is intrinsically linked to London’s very high rates of poverty. We want the next mayor to create a London 'affordable rent' figure which will allow those on low incomes to live here.
Opinion polling for us by YouGov of 1,219 Londoners found strong support for these policies. A clear majority of families were more likely to vote for a candidate who pledged more affordable housing (63%), made employers pay the London Living Wage (61%), encouraged employers to offer flexible working hours (60%), delivered more affordable and flexible childcare (59%), or did more to promote information about the help available with living costs (54%). Londoners across the board were particularly supportive of policies on affordable housing (67% more likely to support a candidate pledging action in this area), and the living wage (62%).
Committing to these vital issues might not only be key to winning the upcoming election, but is also a first step towards tackling London's shockingly high levels of child poverty.
More information can be found at the Family Friendly London website.