Inner London has just been declared the most affluent region of the EU. Using a benchmark of 100 as the average for per capita purchasing power, the city scores a whopping 303, compared to the poorest region in the UK – Cornwall – which rates just 77.4. We know that London has the most expensive hotel rooms and restaurants, and now the area bounded by the North and South Circular roads is home to more wealthy residents than Luxembourg, Brussels or Hamburg, by a considerable margin.
This conspicuous wealth in London is enhanced by those who have come to live and work here from outside Britain, a recent survey estimating that a third of Londoners were born elsewhere. Traditionally, London has been a haven for poor immigrants, but the success of the City as a financial hub has meant thousands of high-earning single men and women now live in trendy inner-city apartment buildings and warehouse conversions.
Wealthy Russians and other expats fleeing repressive or unsympathetic regimes spend their money in department stores, delicatessans, designer boutiques and art galleries, and colonise areas around Hyde Park, Chelsea and Knightsbridge, pushing up property prices. Increasingly, there are two very different versions of life in central London, with residents divided into the haves and the have-nots.
Where I live in Clerkenwell is typical of this polarising of wealth. According to statistics released by the Government, central London might be rich, but it contains three of the top six areas in Britain where families are living on benefits. In my neighbourhood, Islington South and Finsbury, 45 per cent of all children live in households claiming unemployment support.
There's plenty to celebrate about central London – free art galleries and museums, a vibrant club and music scene, plenty of restaurants, good public transport and a cosmopolitan mix of people. With prestigious art colleges like St Martin's nearby, as well as more architects' and designers' offices than any other part of the city, Clerkenwell feels fashionable and thriving. Scratch below the surface and it's a very different story. Walk around during the day and you'll see plenty of people from the large council estates in the area who are clearly not working.
Children hang around in the evenings with not a lot to do – sadly the adventure playground nearby is not open longer (when the demand is there) because the council cannot pay the staff. It would be good to see all the rich people who work in this area – Bloomberg and all the city banks are just down the road – stop investing in fashionable modern art for a while and start putting some big money in the direction of the local community to fund youth workers, and more places where kids can let off steam, make music and play sport. Instead of hanging exhibitions in their foyers, how about paying for some of the disused halls and garages on local estates to be refurbished and turned into clubs?
I do not know why so many people claim unemployment benefit when there are thousands of jobs advertised locally – it's clear that the people who are not benefiting in any way from prosperous London are the poor white working class. Somehow these badly educated, illiterate young men and women need to be encouraged to learn skills and motivated so they can work. The education system has failed them- and Labour's New Deal isn't having much of an impact. Where's the sense of living in a village? It will only be achieved if rich Londoners give something back to their neighbourhoods.
I'm being fed too much Delia
The Delia Smith publicity whirlwind is in full swing, with her new book, How to Cheat at Cooking, soon to be followed by a BBC television series.
It will be hard to avoid Delia over the next few days – she's making no fewer than three BBC appearances tomorrow – the Today programme on Radio 4, Simon Mayo on Radio 5 Live, and The One Show on BBC1.
I'm not a snob – but the idea of buying frozen crispy potatoes, dried ciabatta breadcrumbs, instant mash and ready-made cheese sauce is repulsive. With the book at No 1 in the bestseller list, clearly not a lot of people agree with me. The notion that cooking with real ingredients takes time is ludicrous – the less processed food we eat, the better.
* The green police are out in force, monitoring what flowers are acceptable to send on Valentine's Day. Concerned consumers already sift through ever more confusing information about air miles and carbon off-setting, and now Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, tells us we should be buying roses from Kenya in order to boost the stricken economy, as tourists stay away and workers are threatened during the tribal unrest that has claimed thousands of lives. Mother's Day and Valentine's Day account for more sales of Kenyan flowers than the rest of the year put together, but why buy flowers that are out of season and which have travelled so far, when we could be purchasing beautiful daffodils from the Scilly Isles? Only seven flower farms in Kenya have received certification from the Fairtrade Foundation because they are prepared to pay their workers a decent wage. Lake Naivasha, where most of the farms are situated, is heavily polluted. Surely it's better to buy seasonally, and British.Reuse content