Despite Boris' pronouncements, almost one in five Londoners do not earn enough to afford a decent quality of life
In the run up to the General Election, every few weeks Left Foot Forward will take a look back at the coalition’s record on a specific policy area. This week we focus on low pay, and each day we will feature a piece that looks back at the impact of coalition policies on in-work poverty over the past five years. The following is from Jenny Jones, Green Party member and deputy chair of the Policing & Crime Committee
London’s streets are paved with gold, but an increasing number of Londoners are living on credit. I grew up in the 1950s being taught that debt was to be avoided if possible. My parents heard distressing stories of the workhouse and debtors’ prisons. Today’s working poor would probably recognise some of those stories.
I’ve heard it said too often that London has been an economic success story under this mayor and government, with a booming jobs market and high rates of growth. This may be true, but it shows the poverty of these measures of success when they can conceal such desperate income poverty and inequality.
Average pay was still eight per cent lower in 2014 compared to 2008, when adjusted for inflation, and the minimum wage has fallen further and further behind the London Living Wage. The national minimum rate now leaves low paid workers up to £2.65 per hour below the amount they need to build a life on, and too many below even that as minimum wage enforcement remains a big problem.
The mayor has certainly talked up the London Living Wage, and the campaigners – with a little help from his office – have had a lot of success in getting large employers to sign up on a voluntary basis.
But there are many more people earning less than the London Living Wage today than when he came into office – the GLA estimates the number to have risen from 569,000 in 2008 to 917,000 in 2014. That’s almost one in five working Londoners not earning enough to afford a very basic quality of life, and even this wage rate leaves you relying on tax credits and housing benefit.
Without those in-work benefits, you would need to be paid £11.67 per hour just to scrape by in London. Yet the national minimum wage is just £6.50 per hour, and for young adults a miserly £5.13 per hour.
Then there are those struggling on zero hour contracts or in self-employment, or worse still putting in 30 hours a week without pay on counter-productive workfare schemes. The mayor and this government co-funded a workfare pilot in London that halved the participants’ likelihood of finding work. One in 10 participants were sanctioned, mostly for refusing to participate, which also meant they lost access to Jobcentre training services.
Try scraping by on this low wage, insecure job market while paying sky-high rents and dealing with bus fares that have gone up by a fifth in real terms. Add to that the punitive array of service cuts imposed by austerity government and councils, and the cruel cuts to council tax benefit, and it’s no wonder that half a million Londoners are now facing problem debts, as an investigation of the London Assembly’s Economy Committee which I chaired recently found.
Poverty is not just about income, but the low wage economy in London makes it inevitable. One million Londoners desperately need a government and mayor with a completely different economic strategy.
Jenny Jones is a Green Party Assembly member and deputy chair of the Policing & Crime Committee. Follow her on TwitterLike 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.