Covid had – and continues to have – a dramatic impact on London. But that impact has not been felt equally across a city already suffering “deep-rooted structural inequalities” even pre-pandemic. That’s the starting point for Building a Fairer City, the latest action plan initiative from Sadiq Khan’s London Recovery Board, which seeks to mobilise all sectors to tackle those barriers as the capital’s Covid recovery continues.
Figures set out in the plan are stark. London was already suffering poverty levels higher than in any other region or country in the UK, with inequalities across the 32 boroughs, and Covid hit the city’s disadvantaged groups particularly hard.
Sixty per cent of those who died in the city as a result of the virus were disabled and the risk of dying from Covid was 1.9 times higher for black Londoners compared with white. Women were most affected by job losses and furlough, and LGBTQ+ Londoners reported high levels of mental health problems.
“Long-standing structural inequalities impacting on too many Londoners were already there,” said Kim Wright, Lewisham Council chief executive and the Recovery Board’s lead member for the action plan. “Covid worsened them. Those who could least afford to lose, lost the most.”
Wright was speaking alongside Debbie Weekes-Bernard, deputy mayor for social integration, at an urban recovery event organised by City Hall with London Councils, academic networks IPPO and the London Research and Policy partnership.
The plan ambitiously sets out to “reduce the inequalities that drove the disproportionate impact of the pandemic, or were created by it”, focusing on four key areas – living standards, equality in the labour market, public service provision and the strength of “civil society”. Recommended actions range from boosting pay to London Living Wage levels to promoting rights at work, improving community involvement in service delivery and development, and increasing funding for community organisations, particularly those suffering discrimination and disadvantage.
The Recovery Board cannot compel organisations to take up its recommendations, which it acknowledges are a “big ask”, though progress will be monitored. The focus is now moving towards consolidating a joint approach, which began as an immediate response to the pandemic.
The board was convened by the Mayor in the summer of 2020, bringing together senior representatives from national, regional and local government, health, education and other public services, business, trade unions and civil society organisations. It has set out nine “missions” aimed at promoting recovery across the city, and has also for the first time encouraged major employers to come together in an “Anchor Institutions” network, using their market strength to support recovery through procurement, wage policies, mentoring and recruitment.
“There is only so much the Mayor, the NHS, the boroughs can do,” Weekes-Bernard told the meeting. But coming together as the recovery board had “really opened up new possibilities for collaboration, enabling us to do more than we would have been able to do alone,” she added.
Khan is now looking for a further “coalition of the willing” to take the fairer city plan forward. “Working together, with a common cause, gives us a real chance to build back a better London for everyone – a safer, greener, more equal and prosperous city for all,” he said as the plan launched. City Hall is also considering how the recovery board structure could become an established feature of London’s governance.
Speaking at this week’s event, Luke Bruce, Greater London Authority recovery programme director, said the board has “brought people together in a way that hasn’t happened before, with the city speaking as one voice in a more effective way. I think it will transition into something more permanent.”
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