Tackling the ‘two New Yorks’: what can London learn?

Bill de Blasio’s cutlery choices may have got him into hot water last week, but just two months ago he was New York’s favourite, winning a landslide victory in their mayoral election, with almost three times as many votes as his Republican rival, Joe Lhota. De Blasio’s campaign focused on the ‘two New Yorks’: a city divided between the haves and the have nots, with growing wage inequality and a disappearing middle class. As Londoners start to consider who their next mayor could be, does the New York race give clues for the London campaign?

There was an appetite for change in New York, but it was de Blasio’s ability to tap into New Yorkers’ issues that enabled him to shoot ahead in the polls. De Blasio campaigned about a crisis of inequality and moving from a Tale of Two Cities to building one New York. He promised policies to improve the lot of the ‘have nots’: job creation, increase in affordable housing and accessible health care, and improvements to early childhood and after-school programs funded by higher taxes on the wealthy. He was able to overshadow his opponent by channelling New Yorkers’ rising frustrations with income inequality, and lack of affordable housing, and by declaring that the ever-improving city did not need to leave so many behind.

Like New York, London is losing its battle with inequality. More than one in four Londoners lives in poverty, 7% higher than the rest of England. Incomes are more unequal than anywhere else in the country, with more people in London earning the highest and lowest incomes than elsewhere in the country. Children are more likely to be living in poverty than adults, with 36% of children living in poverty in London. One of the main drivers of child poverty in London is the employment rate among parents, in particular mothers. There is a 12 percentage point gap in the number of women with children who are employed between London and the UK average. This is the result of the high costs of childcare, housing and transport in London coupled with a lack of high-quality, part-time work.

The New York Mayor has a broader set of responsibilities than his London counterpart, but London Mayoral hopefuls have many opportunities to tackle child poverty and inequality. The mayor chairs the London Enterprise Panel (LEP), bringing together London’s boroughs, business and Transport for London to look at regeneration, employment and skills in London. The LEP could work to increase part time employment opportunities, and improve employability support to parents to take up these opportunities. The mayor could also use his or her responsibility for housing to tackle the high housing costs in the capital.

The result of the New York mayoral election shows that tackling the difficult issues of poverty and inequality can be a vote winner. London and New York are both home to wealth and prosperity, but living in these cities is a tale of poverty and deprivation for too many. Candidates for the next London mayoral election would be wise to recognise that tackling inequality strengthens the capital’s economy.