In his Manifesto, Sadiq Khan boldly declared that ‘in a city as prosperous as London, there is no excuse for child poverty’. He repeated this statement almost word-for-word in A City for All Londoners, his new vision for London, published in October last year. Obviously we agree, but what action has he taken since to tackle the drivers of child poverty? And by this we mean the high housing costs, lack of affordable childcare, underemployment and low pay in the capital.
The Mayor has undoubtedly made an energetic start. His policy announcements in the first 100 days included a new, one-hour bus ‘Hopper’ fare and a full gender pay audit of all City Hall’s staff. Around 50 million ‘Hopper’ journeys had been made by March this year, and while we don’t know the extent to which parents on low incomes have benefited from the policy, it is likely that many have. Interestingly, Brent is the most popular ‘hopper’ location, where 32 per cent of children live in poverty – lower than the London average of 37 per cent.
Key to tackling child poverty is boosting maternal employment and equalising pay, and the Mayor is going some of the way to tackle the gender pay gap in London. His gender pay audit revealed a gender pay gap of up to 35 per cent within the GLA family. Reporting on the gap was a good first step and the Mayor has appointed women to a number of senior positions at City Hall, thus setting a good example to the rest of London, but the question remains: will other employers follow him?
On the London Living Wage, the Mayor dutifully announced the London Living Wage increase back in November and called on Premier League clubs to pay it in January this year, but he has done little since then to tackle low pay in the sectors where it is endemic: in retail, wholesale, hotels and restaurants. At present, 15 out of 33 local authorities are accredited Living Wage employers – the Mayor could do more to encourage the remaining 18 local authorities (of all political persuasions) to become accredited. To help him, CPAG and the Living Wage Foundation are planning on publishing a Living Wage toolkit for local authorities in London this summer.
Encouragingly, the Mayor has created two new roles with child poverty in their briefs: Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare and Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, roles taken up by Assembly Member Joanne McCartney and Matthew Ryder QC respectively. Both Deputy Mayors are showing an openness and willingness to engage with the voluntary sector and have held several roundtables on childcare and child poverty which CPAG and others have taken part in – a positive step forward.
On childcare, the Mayor has welcomed an IPPR report commissioned by the GLA, urging London’s government to lobby for a new deal for devolved funding to give the Mayor and London boroughs more influence over the cost and availability of childcare in the capital. With the devolution of adult skills funding and employment services support already granted to the Mayor, along with some devolution of business rates, criminal justice and health, could childcare go the same way? The Mayor will need to lobby hard for this to happen.
Undoubtedly the biggest challenge for the Mayor is solving the capital’s housing crisis. He is making some progress, albeit at a slow rate, by promising to deliver 90,000 affordable homes, investing in community-led housing and setting up a new online database to ‘name and shame’ criminal landlords. However, he must go further and continue to lobby the government for more power over the private rented sector (PRS), where half of children in poverty in London live.
Finally, the Mayor has expressed an interest in strategic interventions to address child poverty. This is to be welcomed because there are no ‘quick fixes’ where child poverty is concerned. Overall, the Mayor’s focus on poverty – not as issue prioritised by his predecessor – has been hugely encouraging. But a year on, it’s now time to start delivering for the 700,000 children living in poverty in the capital.