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.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

0800 7318496