Socialist Worker

'We need to create decent well-paid jobs in London'

by Berlyne Hamilton, Left List candidate for the London assembly
Issue No. 2096

Is there something that could be done immediately to tackle poverty and unemployment in London? Yes. But you need a different vision for the city.

I came to Britain from the West Indies in 1960 and spent my working life at the Ford plant in Dagenham, east London.

At that time there were plenty of opportunities for young people to start work. There was Ford, Cable & Wireless, the docks, the gas and coal board, and the bus garages.

A young person could also start their working life as a bus conductor. These jobs have now gone – as have those in the docks, factories and workshops.

There were jobs in the local council – building and maintaining council homes, or looking after the elderly. These have been slashed as well.

Poor pay and the lack of jobs are driving the young people out of Newham, where I live. On East Ham High Street there are lots of new restaurants, but they are mostly empty.

If people don't have the money they don't eat out. This vicious circle affects local businesses.

You can begin to solve this by a redistribution of wealth, real job creation and a real living wage. We could create tens of thousands of jobs just by maintaining and doing up the homes of the elderly.

This would improve their quality of life. We could take back services from the privatised companies and spend the profits they make on hiring more people.

But all of this requires a vision of our city that puts the needs of people, not profit, first.

London's working poor in figures

  • The proportion of London households living in poverty stands at 27 percent, compared with 20 percent across Britain
  • Over 34 percent of households in inner London are below the poverty line
  • One survey of London's low paid workers – such as cleaners and restaurant workers – found that 90 percent earn less than £6.50 an hour. Over two thirds had no access to a pension scheme
  • Only 41 percent of disabled women and 46 percent of disabled men have jobs
  • Inequality in London is so stark that life expectancy falls by one year for each stop that is travelled east from Westminster on the Jubilee Line
  • Only one third of disabled mothers in London are employed compared to around a half in the rest of Britain
  • Pensioner poverty in London stands at 26 percent against a national level of 21 percent
  • Those suffering the lowest wage levels include Bangladeshis, who earn 42 percent below average and Africans, earning 25 percent below average
  • A child born in one of the more deprived areas of London is likely to die nearly six years earlier than one born in an affluent part of the capital

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Article information

Tue 8 Apr 2008, 19:57 BST
Issue No. 2096
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