Under Boris and the Tories, London is becoming a divided city

Falling real wages and inflation-busting price rises mean that having a job is no longer a secure route to escaping poverty in the capital.

A new report released today shows that the government and Mayor are turning London into a divided and segregated city. The London Poverty Profile shows that a third of Londoners now live in poverty and, even more staggeringly, an increasing majority of those in poverty are actually in work. Having a job no longer guarantees that you can afford to live in the capital. As London’s business and cultural spheres successfully compete around the world, ordinary Londoners have been left behind. Ever fewer are able to enjoy the benefits that living in a global city provides – having to walk past galleries, theatres, stadiums and restaurants that are completely out of their reach. It is up to the government and Mayor of London to reverse this. No one should be left behind as London grows and prospers in the decades ahead. We simply cannot win the global race unless we compete as one united city, with everyone enjoying the benefits of London’s success.

The London Poverty Profile makes truly worrying reading. Of the one in three Londoners who now live in poverty, two out of three are in work. The number of people in 'in-work poverty' has risen by almost half a million since 2001. The numbers of those working part-time because they can’t find full-time work has doubled in just five years. Falling real wages and inflation-busting price rises under this government mean that having a job is no longer a secure route to escaping poverty in London. The report exposes the scam behind the government’s claim to be 'making work pay' – work pays less in London today than at any time for generations. It also shows that the government’s divisive attempt to pit those in work against those looking for work is completely baseless – quite simply, more people in poverty have a job than don’t.

Why is this happening? Wages have completely failed to keep pace with the cost-of living in London. The cost of rent rose by 9% last year alone and house prices by 8%. Energy bills are on average £300 a year higher than in 2010. The cost of single bus journey has increased by 56% under Boris Johnson and a zone 1-6 travel card in £440 a year more than when he became Mayor. Water bills rose by 3% above inflation since 2010 and are set to increase by another 8% by 2015. At the same time, real wages are falling. Wages rose by the smallest level since records began in the first quarter of this year and one in five Londoners are paid below the Living Wage. As essential bills take up an ever higher percentage of Londoner’s salaries, tens of thousands of hard working families have been pushed into poverty.

The government and Mayor have done nothing but make the situation worse. My friends and neighbours know that living standards have fallen for 38 consecutive months since David Cameron’s government got into power: they see it when their wages run out earlier each month, when they can no longer afford to keep their homes warm and when they are having to walk to work because they can’t afford the tube or bus. There has been no action to tackle the increasing cost of housing in London. In fact, the Mayor recently increased the cost of affordable housing to 80% of market rate which is simply out of reach for most Londoners. Poverty in outer London is growing fast as central London rents have become unaffordable, and the number of people in poverty living in the private rented sector has doubled since 2003. The Mayor has also increased the cost of commuter travel which is now the most expensive in the world. There has been no action to tackle rising gas and electricity bills and the government have clearly taken the side of the 'big six' providers over ordinary Londoners. And when Thames Water recently asked for permission to increase their bills by 8% over two years - the Mayor of London didn’t say a word about it.

Londoners need action now. On housing, the government need to match Labour’s commitment to build 200,000 new homes a year by the end of the next Parliament, with the majority in and around London. Action must be taken to tackle rip-off letting agent fees, and to look at what can be done to bring rents under control. On travel, the Mayor must commit to freezing fares at least at the rate of inflation for 2014. He can afford to do so; all that is missing is the political will. On the Living Wage, it is time the Tories began matching words with action. Ten Labour councils are now Living Wage employers, while not a single Conservative council is accredited. Living Wage Councils are working to persuade local employers to pay the living wage– crucial to raising wages. The government needs to look properly at Rachel Reeves’s suggestion of Living Wage Zones and whether we can offer incentives for businesses in London to pay the Living Wage. And on water bills, the Mayor needs to do his job and stand up for ordinary Londoners by saying publicly and unequivocally that it is simply not acceptable for Thames Water to raise their bills above inflation yet again in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

It is not just those left impoverished by this government and Mayor that are paying the price. The creation of a divided city is damaging London’s ability to compete with other global cities. Last year, for the first time ever, the CBI cited the cost of housing as the biggest barrier to growth in London. Four out of five London employers say the lack of affordable housing is stalling growth in the capital and Vodafone recently reported it was struggling to attract middle-managers to their London office because of the high cost of living. The Mayor is off on his travels again this week - he is in China on a business delegation. However, his attempts to attract foreign investment, business and jobs to London cannot be successful unless he fixes the cost-of-living crisis closer to home that he and his government are presiding over.

This report should act as a wake-up call to Boris Johnson and David Cameron. Their cost-of-living crisis is having a catastrophic effect on our city. It is causing untold misery to millions of Londoners and damaging our ability to compete on the global stage. They must now act to ensure no more Londoners get left behind.

Sadiq Khan is Shadow London Minister and MP for Tooting

Boris Johnson speaks to members of the press during a media conference in London on July 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
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GM should not be the monopoly of a few multinational corporations

People may be opposed to GM crops and ultimately consumers will decide what they want to eat. But people facing malnutrition or starvation do not enjoy that choice.

My parents researched malnutrition and under-nutrition in India, especially among children, and found that many diets recommended by Western nutritionists were in fact completely inapplicable to the poor. So they formulated cheap, healthy diets based on indigenous food with which people were familiar. Yet despite their many other efforts, a quarter of people in India and nearly one in nine people around the world do not have enough food to live a healthy active life.

The World Bank estimates that we will need to produce about 50 per cent more food by 2050 to feed a population of nine billion people. And the past 50 years have seen agricultural productivity soar – corn yields in the US have doubled, for example. But this has come with sharp increases in the use of fertilisers, pesticides and water which has brought its own problems. There is also no guarantee that this rate of increase in yields can be maintained.

Just as new agricultural techniques and equipment spurred on food production in the Middle Ages, and scientific crop breeding, fertilisers and pesticides did so for the Green Revolution of the 20th century, so we must rely on the latest technology to boost food production further. Genetic modification, or GM, used appropriately with proper regulation, may be part of the solution. Yet GM remains a highly contentious topic of debate where, unfortunately, the underlying facts are often obscured.

Views on GM differ across the world. Almost half of all crops grown in the US are GM, whereas widespread opposition in Europe means virtually no GM crops are grown there. In Canada, regulation is focused on the characteristics of the crop produced, while in the EU the focus is on how it has been modified. GM crops do not damage the environment by nature of their modification; GM is merely a technology, and it is the resulting product that we should be concerned about and regulate, just as we would any new product.

There are outstanding plant scientists who work on GM in the UK, but the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have declared their opposition to GM plants. Why is there such strong opposition in a country with great trust in scientists?

About 15 years ago when GM was just emerging, its main proponents and many of the initial products were from large multinational corporations – even though it was publicly funded scientists who produced much of the initial research. Understandably, many felt GM was a means for these corporations to impose a monopoly on crops and maximise their profits. This perception was not helped by some of the practices of these big companies, such as introducing herbicide resistant crops that led to the heavy use of herbicides – often made by the same companies.

The debate became polarised, and any sense that the evidence could be rationally assessed evaporated. There have been claims made about the negative health effects and economic costs of GM crops – claims later shown to be unsubstantiated. Today, half of those in the UK do not feel well informed about GM crops.

Everyday genetic modification

GM involves the introduction of very specific genes into plants. In many ways this is much more controlled than the random mutations that are selected for in traditional plant breeding. Most of the commonly grown crops that we consider natural actually bear little resemblance to their wild ancestors, having been selectively modified through cross-breeding over the thousands of years that humans have been farming crops – in a sense, this is a form of genetic modification itself.

In any case, we accept genetic modification in many other contexts: insulin used to treat diabetes is now made by GM microbes and has almost completely replaced animal insulin, for example. Many of the top selling drugs are proteins such as antibodies made entirely by GM, and now account for a third of all new medicines (and over half of the biggest selling ones). These are used to treat a host of diseases, from breast cancer to arthritis and leukaemia.



Millions of acres growing GM crops worldwide. Fafner/ISSSA, CC BY-SA

GM has been used to create insect-resistance in plants that greatly reduces or even eliminates the need for chemical insecticides, reducing the cost to the farmer and the environment. It also has the potential to make crops more nutritious, for example by adding healthier fats or more nutritious proteins. It’s been used to introduce nutrients such as beta carotene from which the body can make vitamin A – the so-called golden rice – which prevents night blindness in children. And GM can potentially create crops that are drought resistant – something that as water becomes scarce will become increasingly important.

More than 10% of the world’s arable land is now used to grow GM plants. An extensive study conducted by the US National Academies of Sciences recently reported that there has been no evidence of ill effects linked to the consumption of any approved GM crop since the widespread commercialisation of GM products 18 years ago. It also reported that there was no conclusive evidence of environmental problems resulting from GM crops.

GM is a tool, and how we use it is up to us. It certainly does not have to be the monopoly of a few multinational corporations. We can and should have adequate regulations to ensure the safety of any new crop strain (GM or otherwise) to both ourselves and the environment, and it is up to us to decide what traits in any new plant are acceptable. People may be opposed to GM crops for a variety of reasons and ultimately consumers will decide what they want to eat. But the one in nine people in poor countries facing malnutrition or starvation do not enjoy that choice. The availability of cheap, healthy and nutritious food for them is a matter of life and death.

Alongside other improvements in farming practices, genetic modification is an important part of a sustainable solution to global food shortages. However, the motto of the Royal Society is nullius in verba; roughly, “take nobody’s word for it”. We need a well-informed debate based on an assessment of the evidence. The Royal Society has published GM Plants: questions and answers which can play its part in this. People should look at the evidence – not just loudly voiced opinions – for themselves and make up their own minds.

The ConversationVenki Ramakrishnan is President of the Royal Society, and Professor and Deputy Director at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article