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.
Photo: Getty
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What will the 2017 local elections tell us about the general election?

In her timing of the election, Theresa May is taking a leaf out of Margaret Thatcher's book. 

Local elections are, on the whole, a much better guide to the next general election than anything the polls might do.

In 2012, Kevin Cunningham, then working in Labour’s targeting and analysis team, surprised his colleagues by announcing that they had lost the 2015 election. Despite gaining 823 councillors and taking control of 32 more local authorities, Cunningham explained to colleagues, they hadn’t made anything like the gains necessary for that point in the parliament. Labour duly went on to lose, in defiance of the polls, in 2015.

Matt Singh, the founder of NumberCruncherPolitics, famously called the polling failure wrong, in part because Labour under Ed Miliband had underperformed their supposed poll share in local elections and parliamentary by-elections throughout the parliament.

The pattern in parliamentary by-elections and local elections under Jeremy Corbyn before the European referendum all pointed the same way – a result that was not catastrophically but slightly worse than that secured by Ed Miliband in 2015. Since the referendum, thanks to the popularity of Theresa May, the Conservative poll lead has soared but more importantly, their performance in contests around the country has improved, too.

As regular readers will know, I was under the impression that Labour’s position in the polls had deteriorated during the coup against Corbyn, but much to my surprise, Labour’s vote share remained essentially stagnant during that period. The picture instead has been one of steady deterioration, which has accelerated since the calling of the snap election. So far, voters buy Theresa May’s message that a large majority will help her get a good Brexit deal. (Spoiler alert: it won’t.)

If the polls are correct, assuming a 2020 election, what we would expect at the local elections would be for Labour to lose around 100 councillors, largely to the benefit of the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives to pick up around 100 seats too, largely to the detriment of Ukip.

But having the local elections just five weeks before the general elections changes things. Basically, what tends to happen in local elections is that the governing party takes a kicking in off-years, when voters treat the contests as a chance to stick two fingers up to the boost. But they do better when local elections are held on the same day as the general election, as voters tend to vote for their preferred governing party and then vote the same way in the elections on the same day.

The Conservatives’ 2015 performance is a handy example of this. David Cameron’s Tories gained 541 councillors that night. In 2014, they lost 236, in 2013 they lost 335, and in 2012 they lost 405. In 2011, an usually good year for the governing party, they actually gained 86, an early warning sign that Miliband was not on course to win, but one obscured because of the massive losses the Liberal Democrats sustained in 2011.

The pattern holds true for Labour governments, too. In 2010, Labour gained 417 councillors, having lost 291 and 331 in Gordon Brown’s first two council elections at the helm. In 2005, with an electoral map which, like this year’s was largely unfavourable to Labour, Tony Blair’s party only lost 114 councillors, in contrast to the losses of 464 councillors (2004), 831 councillors (2003) and 334 councillors (2002).  This holds true all the way back to 1979, the earliest meaningful comparison point thanks to changes to local authorities’ sizes and electorates, where Labour (the governing party) gained council seats after years of losing them.

So here’s the question: what happens when local elections are held in the same year but not the same day as local elections? Do people treat them as an opportunity to kick the government? Or do they vote “down-ticket” as they do when they’re held on the same day?

Before looking at the figures, I expected that they would be inclined to give them a miss. But actually, only the whole, these tend to be higher turnout affairs. In 1983 and 1987, although a general election had not been yet called, speculation that Margaret Thatcher would do so soon was high. In 1987, Labour prepared advertisements and a slogan for a May election. In both contests, voters behaved much more like a general election, not a local election.

The pattern – much to my surprise – holds for 1992, too, when the Conservatives went to the country in April 1992, a month before local elections. The Conservatives gained 303 seats in May 1992.

What does this mean for the coming elections? Well, basically, a good rule of thumb for predicting general elections is to look at local election results, and assume that the government will do a bit better and the opposition parties will do significantly worse.

(To give you an idea: two years into the last parliament, Labour’s projected national vote share after the local elections was 38 per cent. They got 31 per cent. In 1985, Labour’s projected national vote share based on the local elections was 39 per cent, they got 30 per cent. In 2007, the Conservatives projected share of the vote was 40 per cent – they got 36 per cent, a smaller fall, but probably because by 2010 Gordon Brown was more unpopular even than Tony Blair had been by 2007.)

In this instance, however, the evidence suggests that the Tories will do only slightly better and Labour and the Liberal Democrats only slightly worse in June than their local election performances in May. Adjust your sense of  what “a good night” for the various parties is accordingly. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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