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Living in London - wellbeing for all?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013 18:41

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Recent reports on London's wellbeing highlight challenges in housing affordability and inequality that need to be faced for London to meet the needs of all its citizens. 

"London is a city of contrasts” - on one side of the coin we read how the London Borough of Tower Hamlets now has the highest rate of child poverty in the country (BBC News, 20th Feb). We hear that London wages in real terms have declined by £23 a week and inequality is amongst the highest in cities across the country (Cities Outlook 2013) and the income gap is persistent between those in the bottom 10% and those in the top 10% of household incomes in London (London Sustainable Development Commission, 29 Jan 2013).

On the other side it is shown that of the top 10% of London’s houses 90% are owned by overseas investors, leaving streets in Regents Park, Belgravia, Bayswater, or the Phillimores like ghost towns (Evening Standard, 19th Feb). New figures from the Department of Work and Pensions suggest that such distorting prices, along with housing benefit cuts, and high rental prices are pushing lower income groups into the outer London boroughs.

According to Darren Johnson of the London Assembly’s Green Party, a Living Wage earner (£913 per month) could, on average, afford a two bedroom home in only 3 out of 32 boroughs – that is in Havering, Barking and Dagenham, and Bexley.

It is not all a story of doom and gloom. London’s Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC) recently presented their Quality of Life in London report for 2012. The report shows that overall 17 of the 33 quality indicators have improved on since the first report in 2008-09. This includes progress such as reduced crime, increased use of public transport and cycling. London now has lower per capita Carbon Dioxide emissions than the UK as a whole. The report also indicates that 70% of London’s homes are achieving the Decent Homes standard. But perhaps that is only relevant to those that can afford them – noting that “London homes were still 37% less affordable than the national average in 2011and are now less than half as affordable as they were in 1997.”.

The LSDC are careful to unpack the data to highlight the challenges that London currently faces; “the data reveals that there are wide variations in the life chances and opportunities facing Londoners – depending on where they live and who they are. Even where the direction of change in an indicator at the London level is positive this can mask pockets of deprivation for particular areas or groups”.

The report notes that a key inequality is the variation in life expectancy between rich and poorer areas, where; “Women in the prosperous borough of Kensington and Chelsea can expect to live to 89.8 years, whilst women in the less affluent boroughs of Lambeth, Newham and Barking & Dagenham have a life expectancy nearly 9 years less”. LSDC suggests this variation in life expectancy arises from complex factors but includes a lack of access to decent housing, low income, unhealthy lifestyles and other issues, such as how 16% of Londoners live in an ‘Area of Deficiency’ in terms of their access to nature.

Opp and Intensification

Is this how we would like to see London progress, with rich inaccessible residential areas in the centre and an increasingly segregated, disillusioned and impoverished group of people at the margins? Many of the London Plan’s Opportunity and Intensification areas are situated in the inner core of London Boroughs and this focus may prove helpful when responding to these challenges. 

The LSDC has an ambitious vision for London, where people:

  • Have access to quality education, jobs, services, housing and leisure;
  • Live in an environment which is healthy, resilient and stable now and into the future;
  • Live and working within a society which is democratic, just, engaged, diverse, responsible, supportive and vibrant;
  • Are fulfilled, healthy and with sufficient personal resources to enjoy life.

Urgent attention is needed from the GLA and London Boroughs to achieve such a vision in the current climate. It can only be sought in partnership with planners, housing groups, developers, businesses and communities themselves, to identify those mechanisms (in finance, policy, planning and design) that will deliver quality of life and a sense of place, both for the London Plan’s key sites and across London more generally. As a part of this, CPRE London will be seeking answers for how to deliver future housing and infrastructural development that is affordable, accessible and provides a liveable space for all of London’s citizens.

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