London is a fantastic world class city and we have some of the best schools, education facilities, jobs and opportunities. Our communities are diverse and largely cohesive and the cultural experiences people can enjoy as part of living in the capital are limitless. It is because of this, people are prepared to compromise in order to live here. But that means that many modest earners are making great sacrifices whilst making a significant contribution and driving much of the economy. London can only maintain its claim to be a great world city if the people who live and work here can take advantage of all it has to offer.
We need new and different models for people to build assets. The Centre for London’s Hollow Promise report highlights that many people feel their aspirations just aren’t achievable anymore and asset inequality can exclude people from the opportunities London has to offer. The path that people originally thought they might follow in buying a house and being able to take more calculated risks with their future is now not the case. If you are forced to live somewhere or are landed with a mortgage you can’t afford you can feel powerless. Inequality isn’t just about income it is about having power and the ability to make independent decisions.
The child trust fund introduced by the last Labour government should be brought back. It meant that everyone who went into adulthood with an asset which not everyone can achieve on their own. In Haringey this September, year seven pupils will given a £20 account with London Capital credit union. Accounts will be “locked in” for two years, with children and their parents encouraged to add to their savings when they can and schools given opportunities to introduce financial management lessons into the curriculum. The cost to the council is small, but provides an important building block for our young people.
A sense of progress at work is crucial and the answer to this is a combination of a proper skills offer – where a localised system works for the people rather than the providers – and wages that provide the ability and confidence for families and households to take a calculated risk with their future. Many Londoners have good, sustainable employment but there are still too many employed in insecure, short-term jobs that don’t pay well enough for a decent standard of living. Successful households need economic security. Having a job means people can afford better housing, improve their children’s life chances and means that they are more likely to be healthy and happy which is one of the reasons so many boroughs, including Haringey, pay the London living wage.
The opportunities in Haringey are key in providing some of the answers – especially in relation to housing and jobs. Our plans for Tottenham Hale include proposals for more than 5,500 new homes with more than half available for affordable rent or sale. There are issues with housing across all tenures and we need a progressive answer on supporting home ownership in different forms. The shared ownership market is massively underdeveloped and in Haringey we are looking at how we can expand this and provide a route for modest earners who are priced out of the housing market to get onto that elusive property ladder and start to build an asset that they might otherwise not have access to.
It is crucial that as a place, London works for everyone, irrespective of their income and circumstances and this is just not the case for around 20% of the capital’s population. As public policy makers, we need to address this growing imbalance and give people access to the opportunities they currently feel are beyond their reach.
Claire Kober is leader of the London borough of Haringey
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