Decline of Outer London must be addressed, says think tank report

Decline of Outer London must be addressed, says think tank report

The Mayor and the suburban boroughs must do more to nourish “inclusive growth” in Outer London if mounting social problems are to be solved and a sense of division from more prosperous Inner London areas is to be avoided, according to a new report.

The Smith Institute think tank calls for an “urgent review” of what what it calls the “agglomeration” approach to economic development pursued by politicians and policy makers in recent years, whereby prosperity and wealth creation encouraged through a focus on clusters of business activity in Central and Inner London areas.

This “city-centralist” approach has downsides for much of Outer London according to the report, which draws on data analysis, themes explored in focus groups with low income Outer Londoners and discussions with practitioners and experts to explain why poverty, inequality and concerns about quality of life have been rising.

Both the number (1.4 million) and the percentage (60 per cent of London’s total) of poor Outer Londoners have risen in the past 15 years, leading to a convergence with the figures for Inner London areas where poverty has long been more marked. In 2004, Outer London contained 32 per cent of London’s most deprived electoral wards, but by 2015 this had risen to 47 per cent.

An increase in the disparity between higher Inner London housing costs and relatively lower ones in Outer ones, together with the impacts of welfare reforms “seem to have driven more low-income people into renting privately in Outer London,” the report concludes. It finds that housing benefit claims have bee rising in Outer London but falling in Inner London, with the list of London local authorities with the highest numbers of private rented sector claimants “dominated” by Outer London boroughs.

The number of jobs available to the working age population has fallen to below the UK average and low pay has become a bigger problem in Outer London than in Inner London over the past ten years. “Evidence suggests that local jobs matter for employment prospects” in these parts of the capital, with “low-income workers unlikely to commute to Inner London” for employment. The quality of work in Outer London is also more likely to be poor.

Many of these issues were raised in focus groups held in four different Outer London boroughs, with concerns expressed that their areas were becoming more like Inner London ones, including over crime. There were also worries that influxes of foreign migrants and young professionals were putting pressure on local housing markets and pushing up costs. Social housing tenancies were seen as desirable, but difficult for the young in particular to obtain.

There was a preference for more and better local jobs over improved transport links into the centre while mixed feelings were expressed about regeneration, including doubts that resulting changes would be of benefit to them.

The report recommends an “agenda for change” comprising a “new vision for Outer London” concentrating on poverty and inclusive growth and playing on the strengths identified by local people, such as strong feelings of community and a pleasure in diversity, while seeking to “rekindle” a dissipated view that Outer London areas can be places of opportunity.

It urges the Greater London Authority to “urgently review” the deployment of funding for Crossrail 2, whose benefits it regards as disproportionately favouring Inner London and says the Mayor should appoint a deputy for Outer London as its champion at City Hall. The revitalisation of town centres and the fulfilment of Outer London’s potential for more affordable housebuilding are also high priorities.

Read the full report, entitled The Unspoken Decline of Outer London, via here.

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