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The Policy Ask with Manny Hothi: “The world is waking up to the futility of the war on drugs”

The CEO of Trust for London on Grenfell Tower, leadership and working for Londoners.

By Spotlight

Manny Hothi is the chief executive of Trust for London, an independent charitable foundation that tackles poverty and inequality in the city. He has extensive experience of working with low-income communities across the country. Prior to his time at the trust, Hothi worked in social innovation for a decade, but he started his career as a community worker in the south Wales valleys.

How do you start your working day?

Two days of the week I work from home and take my kids to school. They love school so it is normally all laughs and jokes, ending with a big hug at the school gates. On the other three days I cycle to the office. You need to have your wits about you cycling through London traffic. It clears my head and sets me up well for the day.

What has been your career high?

In 2017, I worked with the Evening Standard to raise over £10m for the survivors and bereaved of the Grenfell Tower fire. It was such an awful tragedy but the generosity of the public was incredible. There was lots of pressure to get funding to the right people as quick as possible. I learned so much from the experience and have the upmost respect for both the organisations that responded on the ground, and the survivors who continue to have to fight for justice.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

I have learned so much from my experiences working for some amazing leaders in the charity sector. Sadly, I have also learned quite a bit from working in organisations with dysfunctional leadership. I carry with me a couple of very difficult experiences of working for CEOs that had grand visions but no strategy for delivery. On both occasions, the lack of progress on delivery created a toxicity that demoralised everyone.

I think about this a lot now I am in a position of leadership. It is so important to get the balance right between being visionary and ambitious, while staying grounded and managing your own ego.

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If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

The policy world is full of smart, articulate people who present their opinions with the upmost confidence. Don’t be intimated by their polish and don’t let yourself think you cannot engage at that level of debate. But make sure you keep hold of at least some of your imposter syndrome – it’s healthy to question yourself.

Which political figure inspires you?

Sadly, the 16-year-old me really didn’t care about politics when [Tony] Blair came into power in 1997. The only euphoric feeling politics has ever given me was in 2008 when [Barack] Obama was elected. I’d like to feel that again!

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What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?

I think the desire to reduce regional inequalities is the right one. London carries too much of the burden and the city’s housing crisis is the main driver of our high levels of poverty. However, I would rather politicians didn’t lean into anti-London sentiment to make the case for levelling up. There is plenty of inequality within London that needs to be tackled.

And what policy should the UK government ditch?

I expect the new government will double down on the policy, but sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is a disgrace. And the attacks on the European Convention on Human Rights are a betrayal of our nation’s history and values.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

The world is waking up to the futility of the war on drugs. I would look to the increasing decriminalisation and legalisation of marijuana in North America for inspiration as to how the UK’s drugs laws can be reformed. So much of the violence on London’s streets is caused by the illegal drugs market. It affects low-income communities more than anyone else and it is time for a rethink. I’m pleased that Trust for London is supporting the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation to work with Blaksox – a network of black community organisations – to be involved in the policy debate around legalisation. Black communities need a seat at the table as this debate grows.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

I don’t know anyone who thinks London’s housing crisis will end anytime soon. In the absence of radical action on housing supply, we need to make sure people have enough income to survive. I would pass a law that empowers London to set its own minimum wage. The income needed to live a basic standard of living is higher in London than elsewhere. The living wage movement, which has been backed by both Conservative and Labour mayors, has shown that businesses can pay more. Now is the time to make it statutory.

[See also: As the nation mourns, Team Truss plays up the PM’s role]

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