What Boris could do, but isn’t doing, to protect the vulnerable in London

11:12 am - April 1st 2013

by Darren Johnson AM    

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Today a large number of damaging changes to the social security safety net come into force, with more expected through the year. I have spent ten days casting a light on the damage these will do. But there is an alternative.

The Mayor of London set out his reasons for supporting the welfare reforms: reward and incentivise work, drive down rents, protect those who need it most and deliver savings to the London taxpayer.

But the welfare reforms fail to meet these tests. The housing benefit cuts, combined with the Mayor’s yearly inflation busting transport fare increases, are making it harder for people on low incomes to live and work in inner London. Rents in the cheapest part of London’s private rented sector rose 6% in the last year, twice as fast as inflation.

Those most in need of protection are already suffering. The housing benefit bill has continued to rise as more working people sign on to cope with low pay and high rents.

We could incentivise work by ensuring it covers the cost of living, for example by raising the National Minimum Wage to a living wage.

This would put an extra £268 a month into the pockets of a living wage worker in London. We could ensure our social security system incentivises work by scrapping the complicated and costly means-testing and introducing a citizen’s income.

The best way to drive down rents is to do so directly, not to reduce the spending power of the poorest Londoners. The Mayor could press for councils to be given the freedom and funds to build tens of thousands of low cost homes for rent and sale.

He could look at the more secure tenure and the various smart rent controls used in other European countries, and lobby for a private rented sector fit for a quarter of London’s households.

These measures would protect those who need it most and deliver savings by reducing the housing benefit bill.

The Mayor is spending £3 million investigating ways to expand airport capacity around London. He needs to put the same money and imagination into helping his most hard-pressed constituents.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Darren Johnson is chair of the London Assembly and deputy chair of the Business Management and Administration Committee. He represents the Green Party.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,London Mayor

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Reader comments

He could also work with central government to bring empty homes in London back into use. That would drive down rents and cut housing lists.

Or he could just step down and leave the job to Darren Johnson.

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