Monday, April 25, 2005

A CITY FIT FOR ALL -- not just the Olympics!

On the surface London is a great international city with a booming economy. But Londoners know you only have to scratch the surface to reveal the poverty, exploitation, pollution, the run-down, over-priced tube, and a growing drug and crime problem.
London benefits from Britain’s massive imbalance in wealth, with jobs and money concentrated in the capital. But it also reflects the increasing gap between rich and poor under New Labour, now the highest for over a century.
Some of the worst poverty in Britain is in London. According to Barnardo’s, 54 per cent of children in London are living in poverty. Many pensioners, students, unemployed, asylum seekers and people with disabilities struggle to maintain themselves in London.
Unemployment is among the highest in the country, and London contains several of Britain’s poorest boroughs. There are plenty of jobs, but these are mainly for the well educated, or very poorly paid. London has the highest proportion of ethnic minorities, who experience higher levels of unemployment and poverty.
While house prices continue to rocket, the shortage of affordable social housing grows. Many are left to the mercy of the insecure and extortionate private rented market, while the wealthy move further afield to buy up property, driving ordinary working people out of the market.
High streets in prosperous areas are being taken over by estate agents, and almost the entire length of London’s river has been colonised for luxury flat complexes. Meanwhile large areas of the inner city are urban wastelands - the areas where those who create London’s wealth live.
The newly restored Greater London Authority under Ken Livingstone has been generally popular, but there is a huge credibility gap between Londoners and many local councils. They are seen as distant, undemocratic and often corrupt, favouring property developers and private contractors over the interests of their local residents.
New Labour under Blair and Brown showed its contempt for the people of London when privatisation of the underground was forced through against their wishes. While Livingstone has achieved massive improvements in bus services, Londoners will pay the price while huge international conglomerates are guaranteed 30 years of sky-high profits for upgrading the tube system – something which should have been done 25 years ago.
Perhaps this explains why London’s Olympic bid has failed to catch the popular mood in London. Suddenly the government has found money for long-overdue transport improvements, but most Londoners think the millions spent on the Olympics will not benefit them.