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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Private renter poverty has doubled in a decade - so where's Labour?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation named housing market failures as driving poverty. 

Labour’s economic policy task is enormous. It must find a coherent argument that addresses Brexit, the “left behinds”, and a nervous business community. But there is one policy area that should be an open goal – private renting. 

The number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade, according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Those most likely to fall into poverty are working families – there were 2.8m of these people in 2014-15, compared to 1m a decade earlier.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the report noted, after finding more than 70 per cent of private renters in poverty pay at least a third of their income in rent.

This is particularly the case if you consider the knock-on effect - housing benefit. This benefit was frozen by George Osborne, meaning that by 2015 Shelter calculated rates had fallen behind actual rents in nearly 70 per cent of England. For families out of work, of course, housing benefit is also included in the benefit cap. 

Private renter poverty is easily characterised as an inner-city problem – the kind cherished by the “metropolitan elite”. But in fact, across Great Britain as a whole, roughly one in ten children under 19 lives in a family that is privately renting and claiming housing benefit. The highest percentage was in Blackpool, followed by the Essex coastal area of Tendring, followed by London boroughs. Private renting is a trend that affects both the Remain strongholds and the Leave coastal towns.

So far, Labour has been relatively quiet on private renting. During the summer’s leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn promised to introduce “rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights” (a promise he repeated as part of a longer speech in November). But this is hardly a blockbuster campaign. 

And the challenges are great. A convincing renting policy must explain how Labour would deal with a reactionary letting market industry (including pensioner voters), whether renting should be a step to buying, or an end in itself, and how new council and social housing would be allocated.

Labour could also, though, tie a rent campaign into other trends - the growing army of self-employed that find it hard to prove their wages to a landlord or mortgage lender, the working families on frozen benefits, and the employers that find their employees priced out of the local area. And pissed-off tenants are not hard to find. 

If Labour doesn’t move soon on an issue that should be its natural home, the government may steal the keys. In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond helped himself to Ed Miliband’s 2015 promise to ban letting agent fees. The government has also set up a working group with members of the private renting industry. (Yes, the government may also be selling off social housing under Right to Buy, but if you never had the option of social housing anyway, this may pass you by.)

Fixing the housing market takes imagination and a steeliness to take on entrenched interests. But if Labour does come up with a solution, it could touch the lives of voters, both Leave and Remain. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.