Leonie Cooper: London needs national government help to tackle its high poverty rates

Leonie Cooper: London needs national government help to tackle its high poverty rates

The sheer scale of poverty in Britain would bring shame on any wealthy nation, let alone the fifth richest on Earth. In our capital, over a quarter of Londoners live in poverty. Four in ten are children. The End Child Poverty Coalition has found that, in some areas, up to 57 per cent of children live in poverty, adversely affecting their health, education and opportunities.

Poverty does not have a single cause, but arises from combination of factors, including low pay, austerity, social security cuts and high living costs. This perfect storm drew the attention of the UN Human Rights Council, which earlier this year found “ideological” cuts to public services since 2010 have led to “tragic consequences”.

Here in London, living costs are much higher than in the rest of the country, housing and childcare in particular. And London’s wages are not sufficient to make up for higher prices. Being in employment is important for a number of reasons, but it is no longer the sole route out of poverty, and over half of Londoners living in poverty are from a working household.

Although London has a slightly higher threshold when it comes to welfare benefits cut off, it is still not enough. Figures show that the rate of poverty in London boroughs doubles after housing costs are taken into consideration, indicating that the cuts to local housing allowance are having a big impact on Londoners. Let’s not forget also the impact that Brexit would have on those already struggling, as prices increase and workers’ rights are potentially eroded.

This all demonstrates the need for the recent London Challenge Poverty Week. In my London Assembly constituency of Merton & Wandsworth, as many as 51 per cent of children in one ward are living in poverty after housing costs. More than ever, with local disparities so great, we need local solutions to poverty.

Since Sadiq Khan took office as London Mayor in 2016, there has been a renewed focus on economic fairness in London. To help reduce the cost of living he’s frozen TfL-regulated fares and introduced the £1.50 Hopper bus ticket, enabling people to go about their day-to-day business for less.

Sadiq has also secured over £4.8 billion of national government funding to start 116,000 affordable homes by 2022 and has been looking into whether rent caps could work in London. His Energy for Londoners programme is helping to reduce energy costs and has doubled the number of employers paying the London Living Wage compared to his predecessor.

As this campaign week has focused on, we must also promote local solutions to poverty in the face of the government’s ideological choices. The Mayor has been working with London’s boroughs to tackle poverty locally and has provided them with funding to produce food poverty action plans, including in Merton.

But much more needs to be done if we are to eradicate poverty in the capital. I would like to see all London councils become London Living Wage accredited employers, creating a positive ripple effect on other local employers to pay a fair wage that Londoners can live on.

Local solutions cannot, however, eradicate poverty in isolation. The government needs to take responsibility for the impact that cuts to the welfare system have had and reverse its most damaging policies, such as the two-child cap and the five-week wait for Universal Credit. Without real change from the national government, eradicating poverty will always be beyond the reach of our city on its own.

Leonie Cooper is London Assembly Member for Merton &  Wandsworth.

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