London’s window-dressing for the world draws a veil over the hard-to-take realities in many of its parts, says RABBIL SIKDAR
LONDON is changing. Shifting and mutating into something else; the bustling streets growing, the pressures with it and everyone feels that little bit more squeezed. For a city soaked in wealth, it’s incredible the hardship that defines the lives of millions. Perhaps that isn’t so surprising; London isn’t just a problem for the rest of the country. It sums up everything wrong in the country itself.
Everything that is wrong in the country can be found in London on a magnified scale. Shortage of houses? Check.
Incredibly spiralling rent prices? Check. Poverty wages often needing to be subsidised by a strained welfare system? Check. Rising homelessness? Check. London is bleeding and its inhabitants are suffering the most.
The city is getting richer but the people are being left behind.
A lot of the inequality is facilitated by the incredible foreign investment in the city. A toxic mixture of Arab sheikhs, Russian oligarchs and Chinese businesses has seen foreign wealth flood the city’s housing market.
The city is being gentrified, homes being increasingly bought by foreign investors, ordinary Londoners priced out.
Countless storeys are now owned by foreign investors and companies who simply use the buildings as offshore tax havens without ever living in them. Financial experts in China see the global investment in the capital city to be simply rising, possibly to £150bn in the next 10 years.
As foreign investors continue buying up homes, young Londoners are being priced out, forced to move out. The aspirations of millions of young Londoners are taking a hit. Dream meets reality. A livelihood of insecure, low-pay jobs coupled with rising rents often means living pay cheque to pay cheque, unable to start families because of the financial insecurity, forced to live with parents, move out of the city or live on the streets.
In the last 10 years working poverty has soared by 70 per cent with jobs barely now protecting just over a million Londoners in an analysis found in 2015. Overall the analysis showed that over two million Londoners were in poverty with nearly half a million of them children.
The city’s overall poverty rate is 27 per cent whereas it’s 20 per cent across the rest of England. In some of the poorest boroughs such as Newham and Waltham Forest, a lack of investment in skills and opportunities and distribution of resources has hugely undermined entire communities and left them bogged down in absolute hardship. A lot of this is linked to underpaying insecure jobs but the connection to the housing market crisis cannot be forgotten. In some towns like Newham, families are displaced, uprooted and shifted elsewhere. This became the centre of focus when ordinary campaigners, mostly low-income single mothers, in Newham protested against eviction drawing huge attention.
The city runs the risk of losing some of its most talented individuals. The skills needed to maintain a city like this is being lost because of the inability to meet the costs of living here. The rise of poverty and inequality within the city has gone completely unchecked and few seldom link it to the growing housing crisis and the problems in the private rented sector.
Sadiq Khan has promised an inquiry to find out exactly how deep-rooted foreign investment within London’s housing market is.
So far as London mayor he has set about bringing cautious changes but right now London desperately needs affordable housing, rent controls and a living wage. These are just some of the things that can boost the skills and security of ordinary people, a city increasingly strangled by the ever-rising anxiety of not being able to afford something.
Sometimes it’s easy to regard London as a smooth well-oiled city with incredible wealth pumping across every community, where everyone is comfortable and oblivious to the struggles elsewhere.
The figures would show that many Londoners live in abject poverty on a scale comparable to that of other English cities.
This is a wonderful city, my home, and one brimming with endless possibilities. But it’s becoming harder to stay.