They say it's Europe's richest inner city. Try telling them that in Hackney

PINK CHAMPAGNE, you might have thought, was a bit decadent for a working lunch. But then this is the City of London, which yesterday learnt that it heads the European wealth league. Yesterday, inner London, of which the City forms a part, knocked the previous leader, Hamburg, into second place by a considerable margin.

The rose fizz was pounds 39.50 a bottle, with smoked salmon sandwiches at pounds 2.70 a round. A special occasion? I asked the round-faced youth in his plain blue Italian suit in the wine bar near the new multi-million pound Broadgate Centre which houses financial wealth-creators like Warburg, UBS and Lehman Brothers.

"No," he said, "some days we have the pink and some days the brut."

But this is a tale of two lunches. Five minutes up the road Helen Darcy, a solitary pensioner, was finishing off her midday meal in the Kingsland cafe in the borough of Hackney. Egg and chips was pounds 1.80, but today she had splashed out and had bacon too, which brought it to pounds 2.45, plus 30p for a mug of tea.

She eats out there twice a week. It is cheaper than eating in for some meals, she said. It helps her eke out the pounds 50 a fortnight she draws for food and gas.

Hackney is part of the outer London area which earns only one-third of what inner London does, according to the European Union's statistical service, Eurostat.

Once you had to go to the Third World to find wealth and poverty sitting in such cheek- by-jowl proximity. And while it is true that the contrasts might not be as severe as in somewhere like Ethiopia, where the Addis Ababa Hilton stands surrounded by mud huts and shanty homes, the contrast in London today is grim and striking.

In modern Britain, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, it seems. The statistics give a hint of it. In the City, the average gross wage, according to the National Statistics Office, is pounds 749.50 a week, compared with pounds 565.30 in Hackney, and just pounds 374.10 in the borough of Lewisham.

But these are only averages. The City wine bar is surrounded by a world of smart restaurants with private rooms, Dvorak lunchtime concerts, and jewellers shops so swish that they don't display the price in the window (pounds 390 for a nice set of plain white gold cuff-links, when you ask).

The Hackney cafe, less than one mile away, is in a different world. It stands in a parade of shops which include a second-hand clothes store, boarded-up buildings plastered with fly posters, and a bailiff's office whose security doors and anonymous name plate are betrayed by a bolder, exasperated notice in the neighbouring shop which announces: "Please note we are not Drakes Bailiffs. They are next door."

Bags of rubbish and old bicycle wheels litter the street. Across the road are the offices of the Family Welfare Association, a charity which offers grants to the desperately poor. Two shops down, the Citizens' Advice Bureau carries in its window a poster from the Child Poverty Action Group setting out a long list of currently available state benefits. The newsagents' noticeboards are full of advertisements asking for "out workers" to do "sewing, clerical, electrical and packing in your own home". Childminders advertise vacancies. In the large Oxfam shop in the former Dalston Snooker Centre, people form long queues at the till to buy the old clothes.

Not far away, a solicitors' office carries by its door a laminated sheet proclaiming two hours' free advice on domestic violence for those on income support, family credit, disability working allowance or those with an income of less than pounds 80 a week. Representation at police stations is also available, it says.

Did the contrast between these two worlds hold any concerns for the brokers and dealers in the champagne bar? "I'm not saying anything," said the youth in the Italian suit, "And I'm not giving my name in case you take the piss."

It revealed, I thought, a conscience of sorts, however suppressed. Around him others made anodyne statements about "market forces".

"It's the way life is, I'm afraid," said one buyer and seller of other people's efforts.

"It's the way life is," said Mrs Darcy, as she finished her chips. "But I don't like it.

"It makes me feel small to think they earn in one week more than I have in all my savings in the bank. It makes you wonder."

Indeed it does.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower