Tessa Jowell: Housing in London is unfair when the rich buy homes like gold bars and hundreds of thousands are on housing waiting lists

The global super rich buy London homes like they are gold bars, as assets to appreciate, rather than homes in which to live

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When it’s good it’s very good. For business, innovation, culture and tourism there is nowhere on earth quite like London, but pride in that success mustn’t blind us to its problems.

Below the surface of our vibrant capital city something important is happening – we are becoming divided between the rich and the rest; living together, but growing apart. And the problem is getting worse.

We are home to some of the richest people on the planet but the poorest postcodes in the UK. London has more billionaires per capita than anywhere in the world, yet 40 per cent of our children live in poverty.

London is the leading city of opportunity in the world, but if you are 22, living too far away to enjoy London, have a secure job or a decent place to live it doesn’t feel like there’s much opportunity for you. One in four under 25 can’t find a job. Skills shortages in growth industries like construction and digital mean vacancies remain unfilled but we provide fewer apprenticeships than any region of the UK.

We’re building more luxury properties than ever but fewer than half the homes we need. Even if the present Mayor hit his own target for new homes, it wouldn’t be enough – but he’s already missed it by 50 per cent. The result is a housing crisis that will continue to get worse and worse for Londoners until we turbo-charge the number of new homes built, new communities created.

For those at the top London offers limitless potential, but for millions more opportunities to succeed feel as if they are reserved for someone else. For too many a decent job with fair pay is out of reach, our transport system and public services are well over capacity, and crime and pollution are to be managed in their everyday lives.

London’s social fabric is beginning to strain at the seams and the cause is obvious – a toxic combination of complacent governance, booming population and rising inequality.

By 2030 London is set to become a mega city of 10m people. That means extra pressure on infrastructure to meet demand; childcare, housing, transport, roads, public health and social care. None perfect today, and all miles from where they need to be in 15 years’ time.

These are tremendous challenges – the only response is the “one London, not two” test for everything we do.

And that starts with good growth. London must be an attractive place for business to invest and grow, but their success should be shared by the whole city. So the way we measure success has to move beyond GDP alone to create ways for businesses and communities to come together to create a more resilient and sustainable city. Businesses acting as good citizens, respectful of their neighbours and investing in our young people.

What’s more global competitors from Beijing to Berlin, and Silicon Valley to Singapore, are competing like never before. London might be the best place in the world to do business but any elite athlete will tell you that you don’t stay on top by standing still.

We need to keep moving forward - to build a stronger, fairer more affordable city for everyone.

So a stronger city with more powers, and the ability to invest the money London raises on the things that matter most to the people that live here.

A fairer city where everyone has the chance to share in London’s success. Where we all have the chance to work hard and get on in a decent job paid at least the London living wage, within a safe and secure community, with public services we can rely on.

And a more affordable city where transport doesn’t cost the earth, no-one is locked out of work by the cost of looking after their child, and crucially where a decent home is within reach for us all. Of course that means more homes – but it means fairer rules too.

Today in London, hundreds of thousands of people are stuck in temporary accommodation, on social housing waiting lists, or years of saving short of buying their first home. At the same time the global super rich buy London homes like they are gold bars, as assets to appreciate, rather than homes in which to live. In a city enduring a housing crisis those empty homes could house 55,000.

That‘s a scandal and it’s time to get tough. Absentee owners should live in the house they own or sell up - or face uncapped charges until they do. No dodges or clever schemes to get round that.

Stronger, fairer, more affordable - none of these changes will be easy. But the first step is a Labour government in May.

The choice for London in May is clear. More of the same failing policies with the Conservatives or a Labour government offering real change. A stronger city with more powers and a greater say for Londoners, a fairer city of opportunity for all and real support for our young people, and a more affordable city, building the homes and helping to provide the childcare young families need to work.

Without action our capital city faces ever greater inequality, escalating social tension and outdated public services buckling under the pressure of a growing population.

But London need not fall into crisis. In one London not two, we can bind all Londoners into the success of our city and continue to thrive. The task before us is to build a stronger, fairer more affordable London; the first step is a Labour victory this May.

Comments