Inner London `most deprived part of Britain'

Poverty gap: Divide between rich and poor is sharpest in capital as unemployment and overcrowding rise, researcher shows

GLENDA COOPER

All but one of the inner London local authority areas fall into the 20 most deprived in England, and inequality within the capital means unemployment in the poorest wards is eight times that in the richest.

Not even the "leafy suburbs" of outer London are exempt, with pockets of poverty living "cheek by jowl" with the "extremely wealthy", according to figures produced by Carey Oppenheim, senior lecturer at South Bank University,

Such contrasts have been growing inexorably over the past 20 years and are reflected throughout the country, Ms Oppenheim told the inaugural meeting of the London region of the National Local Government Forum.

But while all regions have struggled to deal with poverty "the inequality is sharper in London", she said.

In 1979, 9 per cent of people lived in poverty (defined as 50 per cent of average income after housing costs). By 1992-93 this had jumped to 25 per cent.

For children, the figures are worse. Ten per cent of children lived in poverty in 1979. This had reached 33 per cent - 4.3 million - by 1992- 93.

The worst affected groups are single parents of whom nearly 60 per cent live in poverty. More than one-third of single pensioners live in poverty and 26 per cent of pensioner couples are poor.

Newham in east London is the most deprived borough in England, followed by Hackney. Westminster comes fourth. The one inner-London authority that escapes the deprivation table is the City.

The local authority areas outside London in the 20 most deprived are the Scilly Isles, Liverpool, Knowsley, Birmingham and Kingston upon Hull. The two outer London authorities which figure in the table are Waltham Forest and Brent.

Within local authority areas standards of living can differ widely, but six of the 10 wards worst wards in terms of multiple deprivation are in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets. The 10 with the highest standards of living are dominated by Sutton, in south London, and Havering, east London. Spitalfields, the worst ward, has an unemployment rate eight times that of Upminster, in Havering. Overcrowding is also worse. In the richest wards less than 1 per cent of people live in overcrowded households, compared with 29.8 per cent in Spitalfields.

"London is a particular case," Ms Oppenheim, who worked previously with the Child Poverty Action Group, said. "It combines extremes of wealth with extremes of poverty living cheek by jowl. It reflects what goes on nationally ... but the inequalities are more extreme."

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, said the forums on poverty must unite to form a national strategy. "The gap between rich and poor is widening in nearly every country in the world, ... but it has widened more in this country than in any other comparable one over the last 10, 15 or 20 years."

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