Why London needs an Inequality Commissioner

Inequality, Poverty in the UK

OPINION:

The divide between the richest and the poorest in the UK is growing, and the gap is seen most starkly in London. That’s why Oxfam is calling for an Inequality Commissioner to work with the Mayor of London on tackling poverty and inequality in the Capital, as Vicky Taylor explains. 

In London the wealth of the richest 10 percent of the population is now 173 times that of the poorest 10 percent (for comparison the UK wide ratio is 60 times). The role of Mayor of London is one of the most important public positions in the UK. The Mayor has the opportunity to tackle inequality, and change the lives of the 2.3 million people living in poverty in the Capital, as well as to set an example for other parts of the country.

Oxfam is calling for the next Mayor of London to appoint an Inequality Commissioner who would:

  • develop a strategy for addressing economic inequalities and poverty in the capital,
  • develop a ‘decent work standard’ based on participatory research with employees and employers,
  • consider the role of London’s financial sector in relation to global inequalities, and
  • assess the potential of any new devolved powers to address inequality and poverty in the capital.

The case for more to be done to address poverty and inequality is a strong one. Around 19 percent of jobs in London pay less than London’s £9.15 living wage, and most of these low-paid jobs are held by women. This exacerbates gender inequalities and contributes to the rising rates of those experiencing ‘in work’ poverty and the consequences of poverty; such as social and economic exclusion from what London offers and
produces.

At its rawest level poverty limits life expectancy, as demonstrated by the shocking 25-year life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest wards in London.At its rawest level poverty limits life expectancy, as demonstrated by the shocking 25-year life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest wards in London. In addition, the prevalence of low wages also carries an economic cost. Low wages depress demand in London’s economy and lower tax receipts, whilst
poverty raises the social security bill and increases the cost of expenditure on services that address the consequences of poverty.  

Championing the adoption of the living wage and working with Local Authorities to ensure the Living Wage is built into procurement contracts would offer one solution to London’s ‘in work’ poverty rate. However, issues around the quality of work available also need to be addressed as many low-paid jobs in London do not currently offer the hours, flexibility or opportunities that would enable employees to have decent living standards. This demonstrates the multi-faceted elements of poverty and the need to involve all stakeholders in order to effectively
overcome it.

The Inequality Commissioner should work with the London Enterprise Panel to ensure London’s economic and growth strategies promote efforts to overcome the causes of poverty, including addressing low wages and poor quality of work. It will also be important to work with boroughs and to build upon London’s Fairness Commission,  as well as to work closely with those experiencing poverty and inequality in order to inform policy implementation and poverty measurements by including the issues
which matter most to those directly affected.

London and the UK also have a vital role in ensuring wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of tax.

The financial crisis in 2008, in part caused by deregulation in the sector, resulted in higher rates of poverty and inequality and illustrates the need to reassess how the financial sector is regulated. An important role of the Commissioner would be to investigate how the financial sector’s central role in the London economy impacts on inequality and poverty.

London and the UK also have a vital role in ensuring wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of tax. Oxfam’s Even it Up campaign demonstrates how tax havens fuel inequality and how the City of London could hold a central position in helping to end tax dodging. By reviewing the consequences of how the financial sector operates and its
role in tax havens, the Inequality Commissioner can make suggestions to government about how best to reform it.

As devolution from Westminster to other regions develops, it is likely that the Mayor of London will gain greater powers. In which instance, the Inequality Commissioner should assess and suggest how best to utilise these powers to effectively tackle poverty and inequality.

The lives of 2.3 million people could be improved by more concerted efforts to tackle poverty in London. The Mayor needs to lead on this and should use London’s unique position to influence and bring about change on a national and global scale. Appointing an Inequality Commissioner who can work effectively with all stakeholders would help to make this happen.

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Author: Vicky Taylor
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.