Debbie Weekes-Bernard: New Survey of Londoners shows need for targeted cost-of-living support

Debbie Weekes-Bernard: New Survey of Londoners shows need for targeted cost-of-living support

Two-and-a-half years after the first Covid-19 national lockdown, who would have predicted we would be in the midst of another crisis – one affecting our ability to feel financially secure, to heat our homes and to afford basic necessities? After a lot of hard work and sacrifice we have emerged from the pandemic, but now face another uncertain winter due to the cost-of-living crisis.

The pandemic caused massive disruption to the lives of Londoners, and in order to recover from it positively we needed to understand how lives had been affected. That’s why the Greater London Authority commissioned its second Survey of Londoners, which took place at the end of 2021.

Unfortunately, as we were preparing to start fieldwork on this new survey, the cost-of-living crisis was beginning to emerge. So while our new survey has provided insight into the lives of Londoners after the initial phase of the Covid crisis, it hasn’t captured the effects of the emerging cost-of-living crisis. Despite this, it has given us valuable insights into the lives of over seven million adult Londoners at that point in time and can serve as a new baseline for the changes we are currently seeing in living standards.

The results from this new survey, taken nearly two years after the first lockdown, show that government support, in the form of protections like furlough and the Universal Credit uplift, helped to ensure overall financial hardship did not increase in London from the time of the first Survey of Londoners, covering 2018-19. However, inequalities grew, as improvements were largely driven by the financial situations of higher-income Londoners, compared with those on lower-incomes.

As a result of these findings, in early September, Sadiq Khan warned the incoming Prime Minister that a Covid-level of support would be required to help Londoners through the cost-of-living crisis. But crucially any further support would need to be far more targeted to ensure it helps those most in need. Initial signs from the new administration are not encouraging, with millions of pounds of unfunded borrowing to be used to transfer money from taxpayers at large to some of the most wealthy people in society.

The new survey notes that some of the groups hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic were much more likely to already be in financial hardship. The 2018-19 survey highlighted previous inequalities – namely, how disabled Londoners and single parents fared poorly on most, if not all, the survey’s economic precarity measures, along with Black Londoners. This latest survey finds that these groups of Londoners were again the most severely affected. In 2022, we started polling Londoners about their experiences of the cost-of-living crisis, and these groups of Londoners were, again, found to be the ones more likely to be struggling to make ends meet.

This continuing situation is undoubtedly a result of long-term structural inequalities which disadvantage minority groups, and demonstrate that there is still much to do. The London Recovery Board, a forum which brings together leaders from across London’s government, business and civil society, published its Building a Fairer City report earlier this year, committing us to a series of actions to help tackle inequalities. The results of the new survey add weight to our commitment.

An encouraging finding from the survey is that it demonstrates the resilience of Londoners and how, by the time it was being conducted, some of the critical issues facing Londoners had recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Londoners’ sense of belonging to the city, the local areas in which they live, and their wellbeing were back at levels recorded in 2018-19.

Sociability levels had not recovered fully, however. Social contact was one of the areas most affected by lockdown restrictions. People were not seeing their friends as often as back in 2018-19, and fewer Londoners reported spending time with their friends or family in general. In addition, Londoners’ participation in free-time activities had also been affected. For example, they were much less likely to have visited a museum or gallery recently, or to have attended a church, mosque or place of worship. The Recovery Board’s mental health and wellbeing mission will see wellbeing champions across the city, empowering individuals, to support not only their own wellbeing but also that of others, and reinforcing the connections we know are so important.

A headline findings report of the new survey have now been published. This goes into more detail about many different aspects of Londoners’ lives, and is required reading for anyone interested in improving life in London. We have also produced a shorter, more visual summary of the key findings, which is easier to digest. For those with an appetite for data, we have created a series of data tables to accompany the report, which provides further breakdowns for more groups of Londoners.

With the cost-of living-crisis now affecting our city and the whole country, the groups of Londoners previously highlighted (as well as some others) are in the worst possible positions to be able to stave off the increasing cost pressures facing them in 2022 and beyond. That is why we are calling for support targeted directly at those who need it the most to help them through this winter, prevent further inequalities, and ensuring we can build a better and more prosperous city for all Londoners.

Debbie Weekes-Bernard is Deputy Mayor for Communities and Social Justice. Follow her on Twitter. Image from Survey report.

Notes about the survey: It was a self-completion survey of 8,630 adults aged 16 and over living in London, and ran from November 2021 until February 2022. It used an online-first methodology, followed by paper questionnaires. The survey sample was drawn from addresses in the Postcode Address File database. After fieldwork had started, some restrictions were introduced due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. This may or may not have had some effect on the data, but caution should be applied when interpreting the results.

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