The Mayor of London famously stood up to the government in October 2010, warning of “Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing” and promising that this would never happen on his watch. So why has he suddenly gone silent on the issue?
Darren Johnson is a Green Party member of the London Assembly
The Mayor of London famously stood up to the government in October 2010, warning of “Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing” and promising that this would never happen on his watch.
That same month he put on record his “serious concerns about the potential unintended consequences for London [of the housing benefit changes]… in terms of homelessness, large numbers of Londoners having to move and the creation of no go areas in inner London for people on low incomes”.
He warned that “the effect on London’s economy will be detrimental, as many low paid workers doing essential jobs in the centre will have to move out of inner London and will not be in a position to afford to commute.
There is also likely to be severe pressure on jobs and services in the cheaper areas of London to which people move.”
The month before, in September 2010, the Mayor made submissions to the Work and Pensions Committee and the Social Security Advisory Committee setting out his evidence. He told the former that the reforms could increase homelessness by 50 per cent, costing councils in London an extra £78 million.
Over the summer and autumn he personally met with Lord Freud once and Ian Duncan Smith twice to discuss his concerns.
Then he made his “Kosovo” comment. Later that day he rushed out a statement making clear that he fully supported the reforms, didn’t agree that they would lead to social cleansing, and that he was confident the concessions he was lobbying for would “ensure the changes are introduced in London with minimal problems”.
So why has he gone quiet about the risks of social cleansing?
Since then he hasn’t met with ministers to discuss welfare reforms and he won’t carry out independent monitoring. He also hasn’t made submissions to the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into the implementation of the reform, nor the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry on the impact of universal credit on vulnerable claimants.
London Councils, many boroughs and charities all responded. Why didn’t the Mayor?
His officers and his housing advisor have quietly lobbied, but the Mayor has been remarkably silent for a man with a unique public profile.
The government has granted a number of concessions that the Mayor, among others, lobbied for. Some cuts were delayed, some groups of people got minor exemptions or grace periods, and extra money has been allocated to help people adjust to the changes.
These are all welcome, so far as they go, but they are unlikely to stop the impacts he worried about in October 2010. They don’t recognise that families even in cheaper parts of London face housing and childcare costs that are £200 a week higher than the rest of the country.
My fellow London Assembly Members and I have questioned the Mayor about welfare reforms every month. We have put evidence to him of rising homelessness, people moving out of London and no-go areas opening up.
He has stuck to his line that his concessions will work, and that there is no need to worry. We won’t, he says, see large numbers of people being driven out of their homes, rising homelessness and no-go areas.
This relaxed approach to the poor being squeezed out of London is in stark contrast to the Mayor’s furious lobbying on behalf of the City fat cats. He has argued loudly against European attempts to regulate the banks, to put caps on banker bonuses and to implement the Robin Hood tax.
The Mayor also led the charge on lowering the top tax rate from 50p to 45p and is dead set against the Mansion Tax on properties over two million pounds.
When defending and extending the privileges of people like himself he is animated and bullish. When it comes to those struggling at the bottom, our Mayor has taken a vow of silence. What we need is for the Mayor to stand up for all Londoners.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.