As voters decide who to elect as the next London mayor, charity chiefs Leslie Morphy and Charles Fraser examine the issues the winner must address
The recent furore over councils shipping low income tenants out of London highlights the very real impact of government cuts. But it’s not just national politicians who are implicated; the issue also raises some key challenges facing whoever is elected as our next London mayor on Thursday.
The number of people who can’t afford a home in London is rising. With a shortage of affordable housing, rents climbing in the private sector, 1 in 10 Londoners now unemployed and cuts to support services biting, we face a real and pressing housing crisis in the capital. Independent research suggests that this is only going to get worse as difficult economic conditions continue to bite, combined with cuts to housing benefit and homelessness services.
London is increasingly bearing the brunt of these cuts, which risk forcing thousands out of their homes. Cuts to housing benefit will hit over 160,000 ordinary Londoners, with an average loss of around £22. And contrary to what many would have you believe, 93 per cent of new housing benefit claimants over the last two years were in work, they just still couldn’t earn enough to meet London rents which average at more than half of take-home pay in most areas. These cuts are leaving thousands falling into arrears and spiralling debt – and in the worst instances facing homelessness, which was already rising.
Figures for the start of this year show a 26 per cent increase in rough sleeping on the same period in 2011 and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly 12,000 people were accepted as homeless and entitled to accommodation by their council last year, over 350,000 languish on council waiting lists and many more get by in hidden situations, in bed and breakfasts or on the floors or sofas of friends and families. With the full impact of the cuts due to be felt during 2012, homelessness is set to rise even further.
But we shouldn’t just be focussing on the figures. We have to search beneath them to see why people’s needs are not being met, and why services which promote personal recovery are not being prioritised. As we look to the Olympics, London’s people, politicians, businesses and community organisations have proven that we can pull together to plan and deliver major infrastructure projects and regeneration, a world class event, to deliver on time and to rise to the challenge. We must now take a similar approach, dedication, vision and commitment to tackling some of our entrenched social problems.
The next mayor will have unprecedented new powers and resources, including control of the £3 billion London development budget and over 500 hectares of public land. All four leading candidates have now pledged to bring together these powers and resources to lead a new drive to end homelessness in London. What remains to be seen is whether these positive words will lead to the decisive action that is urgently needed. We need a mayor who will champion London’s interests to national government on welfare reform, on housing and on cuts to vital budgets. A mayor who will ensure that London’s homelessness services are properly funded and dramatically increase the supply of genuinely affordable housing. We need a mayor who will ensure that London supports those at the bottom of the pile, by addressing head-on the neglect of the long-term unemployed, the exclusion of some by a supposedly universal health service, and a commitment to second-chance education for those who missed out first time round.
As we consider how to cast our votes on Thursday, London needs a mayor who will commit to an Olympic legacy for homeless people to ensure that London’s is remembered as an inclusive, positive games, which makes the capital a better place to live for all its residents, including the homeless, the poor and the vulnerable, and a mayor who will make sure that every Londoner has a place to call home.
Leslie Morphy is chief executive of Crisis
Charles Fraser is chief executive of St Mungo’s