My Fair London was delighted to welcome Luisa Porritt, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Mayor of London, to a public discussion of our 2021 Agenda for a Fairer City, and to present her ideas to build a fairer London.
The evening was chaired for us by Trust for London Chief Executive Bharat Mehta. Luisa spoke fluently about what a Lib Dem Mayor might do for London. She was a little elusive in her response to some of the radical ideas in our Agenda, on pay ratios for example, but she answered a huge diversity of questions from MFL activists, from speaking eloquently about racial injustice in the city and the damage caused by Brexit, to knowledgeably addressing the ongoing problems with Hammersmith Bridge. If you want to be Mayor of London it helps to know something about everything and Luisa was impressively on top of lots of detail.
The Liberal Democrat (and Luisa's manifesto) focusses on 'homes, jobs and clean air', which no-one can be against. Probably fair to say that some of our members were not convinced she understood just how many of London's problems are rooted in the structural social and economic inequalities (the size of the gaps between people) that blight our city.
Make up you mind for yourself and watch Luisa's meeting with us below:
In a confident and free flowing discussion with My Fair London activists, Green Party candidate Sian Berry warmly endorsed our 2021 Agenda for a Fairer London. She joined MFL activists for an hours conversation and discussion on-line, chaired by the CEO of the Trust for London Bharat Mehta. In her opening remarks she described how the Green Party has long identified runaway inequality as intimately linked to environmental degradation and climate collapse. And also how she agreed with My Fair London analysis that London's gross economic and structural inequalities underpin so many of the day-to-day problems that Londoners face in their lives - in housing, employment, education, or with poverty, violent crime, poor mental health, or loneliness.
In a wide ranging discussion Sian answered questions on affordable housing and out of control rents, transport issues and racism. She spoke passionately in favour of Universal Basic Income, and how the straight injustice of unfair privilege is one of her driving motivations as a politician.
The Green Party agrees that to have any chance of living within global environmental limits we need to re-structure our economy and build a fairer London.
Watch the conversation with Sian here:
We are delighted to host a guest blog by June O'Sullivan, CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), the UK’s largest charitable social enterprise
Access to high quality affordable childcare in local communities is accepted as central to supporting the reduction of some elements of child poverty, not least through parents being able to work and the education route for children. However, the Mayor of London commissioned a report last month which found that childcare providers across London will struggle to survive 2021 due to the challenges from the pandemic which has caused significant overheads as well as substantial reductions in income.
Unsurprisingly, those in deprived areas were hardest hit with a staggering 70% of nurseries in disadvantaged areas ‘struggling’ compared with 59% in more affluent areas. That is a huge blow for those children and their families who won’t be able to access high quality Early Years education – something which has been shown to be very effective at reducing the attainment gap – nor will they have accessible and affordable childcare so that they can go out to work.
In 2018, I gave a TEDxTalk about the impact of child poverty and what shocked me the most was just how many people living in poverty were actually working. The UK is the 6th richest economy in the world yet 14.5 million people are living in poverty (with a household income less than 60% of the UK average). Of these, 4.2m children currently live in poverty – and those under the age of five the hardest hit. Families with two parents working full time, at the national minimum wage, are still 11% short of the income needed to raise a child.
Since the pandemic, the Legatum Institute suggested a further 690,000 people have been pushed into poverty of whom 120,000 are children. For these families, the crisis has multiplied their struggle to balance insecure work, low pay and a patchy welfare system while trying to cover the cost of essentials like soaring rents, food, fuel bills, transport and childcare. In a report by the Childhood Trust, children’s emotional wellbeing and mental health has also been badly impacted by Covid.
Poverty is a scourge – inflicting great misery on millions of children from which most will have great difficulty escaping. It is multi layered in its impact affecting their health, education (both expectations and outcomes) and not to mention their personal confidence and sense of wellbeing.
Poverty also has an emotional drag. Older children report feeling ashamed and unhappy and worry about their parents. Disadvantaged children are 4.5 times more likely to develop severe mental health problems by age eleven (compared to their well-off peers). Children in inadequate housing have been shown to be more at risk of respiratory illnesses and meningitis. Those in the most disadvantaged areas can expect 20 fewer years of good health in their lives than children in places with more resources.
Even the House of Lords itself said that Universal Credit pushes families even further into poverty. It also costs society. A cautious estimate is £12 billion a year responding to the social and educational consequences of child poverty (and that fails to calculate the ongoing economic costs of children failing to reach their potential). Turn it on its head and addressing child poverty could benefit the Exchequer £17 billion through increased tax receipts and reduced welfare costs.
It goes without saying that we have a duty of care to our youngest citizens. Nelson Mandela reminded us that there is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than how it treats its children. Right now, we should all be ashamed. Consecutive governments have all talked about the importance of the Early Years and funded research to support the impact of early intervention, yet no one will fund it properly. The pandemic is proving to be the last straw for many settings. What else needs to be said? A combination of redundancies, income cuts and increased costs mean the UK’s poorest families are getting poorer and child poverty is on the rise.
What ACTION Can We Take NOW?
- Start a National conversation about what a happy modern childhood should look like?
- Agree an integrated, cross departmental National Strategy to Reduce Child Poverty
- Increase Universal Credit and provide affordable and good quality family housing
- Increase access to fully funded Early Education for our youngest children with support and training subsidies for parents trapped in poverty
- Write to your local MP with a call to put child poverty at the heart of the UK’s recovery
Connect with June
Telling a fairer story
Why is it so hard to win support for a fairer London when equality is better for everyone?
A project proposal from MFL activist Adrian Renton
Both in the UK and globally in recent years, there has been a continuing accumulation of capital and wealth (and so power) into fewer and fewer hands, almost independently of the political leanings of the parties of government.
More equality and fairness in societies delivers stronger health and well-being as well as social and economic prosperity. But the fairness focus has been on monetary and physical resources and advocating and campaigning for government, political parties or business to deliver or adopt practices, policies or laws to redistribute these resources. But achieving greater equality and fairness requires both electing people/parties who wish to deliver these and maintaining a news narrative which allows them to deliver. There is ample evidence of the strong effects that news and current affairs media has on the formation of the opinions and voting choices of the people who make up the electorate, and the ways ‘big data’ platforms target voters with political messages. However, equality of access to, and power in the control of the media is extremely limited. Apart from the BBC almost all the consumed wholesale and retail outlets for news and news narratives, whether delivered through print, online news, social media, or broadcasting are owned by a small number of companies, and many of them in turn controlled or owned by super-rich individuals. Unsurprisingly the explanatory narratives that our media owners enforce systematically push a world-view that favours their interests: that inequality is natural, that there is no alternative to the ‘free-market’, that neoliberal economics are true.
And the pandemic has further highlighted how vulnerable our society is to flawed or biased reporting.
My Fair London has started to think about ways to challenge the status quo. Starting with the 2021 Mayoral and GLA elections we are collaborating with the Media Reform Coalition on a project that seeks to:
- Deliver a manifesto for News in London and lobby Mayoral and GLA candidates and parties in the 2021 elections to commit to its key elements
- Conduct content analysis of news coverage of the Mayoral Election
- Conduct polls of how Londoners think news media and news narratives can be improved
- Secure resources and partnerships to deliver a longer term strategy for rebalancing and democratising ownership and control of the news media in London and beyond to deliver accurate factual information
- Create a London media Watchdog which scrutinizes media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints
- Secure partnerships with organisations concerned with inequalities in resource distribution, population health and wellbeing, climate change and justice to raise awareness of the importance of media and secure funding for new evidence generation
- develop a longer-term strategy for rebalancing and democratising ownership and control of the news media in London and beyond to deliver accurate, factual information
- Explore the creation of an umbrella organisation (a cooperative?) to bring together independent news platforms and third sector organisations to consider how they can work together
To create and sustain a fairer London we also need a more balanced, open, trustworthy and diverse media.
For further information and if you’d like to get involved in this project please contact: [email protected]
MFL activists met in October to start work on an agenda for a fairer city. Our first draft 'agenda for a Fairer London' - what we would talk to the Mayor about in a first meeting with him or her - is set out below for comments, suggestions and ideas.
London Elections 2021 – London needs a new direction
Like a virus, inequality infects our minds. It harms way we relate to one another and how we feel. Nowhere is this more relevant than in London. Our Agenda for a #FairerLondon, created by citizens and activists, asks the Mayor of London to reduce inequality – a lot. We need to change the shape of our society, for everyone’s benefit. Inequality is woven into the structures of our society through multiple, overlapping layers of discrimination, racism and injustice. Our solutions must do the same, reach throughout society, and wherever possible work to address not the symptoms but the root causes of inequality: the unfair distribution of power and money.
Proposed Meeting Date : 7 May 2021, Time 10.00 a.m. Venue: The Mayor's Office, City Hall
Attendees: The Mayor of London and senior City Hall Staff, representatives of business, trade unions and civic society, My Fair London activists, London fairness campaigners
Our Agenda for a Fairer City
- 'Its inequality, stupid' Inequality is a multi-faceted problem. The norms of inequality have become embedded in our culture. The Mayor should talk at every turn about changing society, changing the distribution of wealth and power, about how inequality directly distorts and harms human relationships. How can we make London vastly more equal? How can we truly banish racism and sexism? The evidence is clear: narrower income and wealth gaps between people will make us care more, share more, help more, contribute more to our amazing city. To have a social London, a creative London, a just London, we need to change London. We need a fairer London.
- Fair economy: fair pay, fair taxes, fair incomes, fair rewards - The Mayor should introduce pay ratios across all city-funded organisations. No public sector employee should earn more than ten times another. No public money should be spent where the pay ratio between boss and worker is more then 10 to one. The Mayor should: challenge the private sector to reduce high pay and obscene bonuses; lobby for powers to introduce wealth taxes – as part of reforming council tax; rebalance London’s economy away from finance and banking. Build on the furlough scheme to explore options for Universal Basic Incomes for Londoners.
- Fair housing, fair space, fair rents - We need to change how we do housing in London. The ‘housing market’ is completely broken. We need homes people can afford to rent and to buy. Endlessly rising house prices lock thousands out of the chance of ever owning a home. Too much housing has become an investment not a home. The lack of rights for tenants creates chronic insecurity & blights people's lives. During the pandemic Government banned unfair evictions and got ‘Everyone In’ from the streets. Change is possible. We could control rents, build publicly or socially-owned homes and recognise that the market is rubbish at fairly providing homes for people.
- Climate change and the environment - Covid19 has drawn attention away from the terrifying challenge of climate change. The rich, and the very rich consume vastly more than the rest of us. Tackling economic inequality is central to tackling climate change. The huge changes needed to save the planet must have fairness and equity at their centre. People in more equal societies support more collective action: action on inequality reinforces action on climate change.
- Children and young people are most damaged by the direct harms of inequality. We need an education system that rejects the myths of meritocracy. London's schools should focus on building citizens, on enriching young people’s minds, expanding experiences, exploring relationships, building confidence and trust. London’s amazing teachers and schools should be freed to richly educate all our young people, not forced to label, divide, segregate and exclude. Today young Londoners get excluded from school to improve the schools results and reputation.
- Press and the media – the language, concepts and attitudes of free-market economics have become so dominant that we barely notice how they infect our lives. Forty years of neoliberalism has changed the very words we use. This is how inequality becomes normalized, accepted and unchallenged. Much of London’s media is controlled by a few rich individuals. The news, the stories, the voices and views that we hear don’t represent our city. The Mayor should find ways to support the development of truly free and balanced sources of news.
- Power and democracy – As inequality has risen the rich have found it ever easier to buy power and influence. Property developers shape our housing system; bankers and finance businesses tell us how the economy has to be; privatized corporations run formerly public services. Even schools are no longer under local democratic control. Democracy and equality are joined at the hip. The Mayor should find new ways to make sure that ordinary Londoners are included in decisions about their city and their lives.
My Fair London – elections 2021 – London needs a new direction: our agenda for a fair city
The Mayoral elections of 2020 were cancelled because of Covid19. The last time elections were cancelled in London was during the Second World War. Coronavirus and our response to it have shown both how vulnerable we are but also how society can come together. Many things previously said to be impossible have happened: homeless people housed overnight; Government directly supporting every business in the country through the furlough scheme; everyone changing the intimate patterns of our lives to protect each other. Dramatic, rapid change is possible.
Like so many other diseases Coronavirus has also followed the lines of inequality in our city: the disease has spread faster in poorer communities, among people in poor housing, among BAME communities. The poorest have also seen the most job losses and the largest falls in their income. Shockingly, in the midst of a global pandemic the rich, and particularly the super-rich, have seen their fortunes continue to grow. And the Black Lives Matter movement reminded us how racism remains embedded in British society. London is grossly unequal and unfair. In a pandemic this visibly costs lives. As fairness campaigners we know that inequality costs lives all the time.
Coronavirus arrived in London after ten years of austerity and forty years of an extreme ideological economic experiment. The scale of the pandemic’s impact is without parallel. Year after year we were told that economic laws were fixed and that competition and free markets were natural and best. If you ‘worked hard and played by the rules’ anyone could get on. The virus quickly showed how false this is. If you are rich you are protected from harm, if you are poor your risk of disease and illness is elevated, no matter how hard you work. Governments, even profoundly incompetent ones, can intervene in the whole economy, paying wages and subsidizing nearly every private company in the country. The magic money tree has become a forest. Why not plan major social change rather than stumble into it?
As the vaccines give us hope of the end of lockdowns and social restrictions now is the time to think about what next. After Covid19 we need rapid, radical change.
Last year we published a manifesto: ‘Five Steps for a Fairer London’. We challenged the candidates for the office of Mayor of London to face up to the gross inequalities that blight our city, and called on them to pledge action to narrow the gap between rich and poor. We asked them to put the creation of a fairer society at the heart of their programme. The shock of coronavirus makes this more urgent than ever. Now the virus has brutally exposed London’s deep inequalities our collective response must be to build a fairer, more equitable and so more just society. We have seen dramatic change is possible. We need a Mayor who who has radical vision for our city, rooted in a shift towards fairness and equity, toward collective actions and social solidarity, towards a globally just and sustainable relationship with the planet, towards freedom and creativity.
Unequal societies spread distrust between people, raise stress, increase violence, make us sick and damage the economy. With our Agenda for a Fairer City we want to build dialogue, create connections between Londoners and contribute to a shared vision for London’s future. We set out seven priorities for change. We want to talk you, to our fellow citizens, to other campaign groups, businesses, politicians running for office. What would it take to build a Fair London? How can we change, for good, the shape of our society? Can London become an ‘Ultra Low Inequality Zone’?
On 8th July 2020 we were delighted to co-host, with Toynbee Hall and The Equality Trust, an evening event with Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Farzana Khan and Natalie Creary. This was our first large scale zoom event, over 1,000 people registered to attend on line, and the debate in the 'chat' channels was intense.
Michael's presentation and the subsequent debate and discussion are on YouTube here:
As coronavirus was beginning to arrive in the UK, in February 2020 and 10 years after his original seminal national review of health inequalities (Fair Society, Healthy Lives), Sir Michael Marmot and his team released their ten year update report. Their new report showed that health is getting worse for people living in more deprived areas in England, that for the first time in more than 100 years, increases in life expectancy have stalled, and for the poorest 10% of women they have actually declined. The review also showed that over the last decade health inequalities, the health gaps between people, have widened overall, and the amount of time people spend in poor health has increased since 2010. There has been an increase in the north/south health gap, with parts of the North East falling further behind and parts of London moving further ahead. In the ten years before, up to 2010, we had seen gradual progress, narrowing some of these gaps. What happened?
The review identified the widespread and deep cuts in most areas of public spending as the root cause of increases in health inequalities in England. Austerity really hit hard. When Michael came to talk to us in July we also asked him to reflect on the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. Ten year's of austerity undermined our capacity to respond to a major epidemic, and growing health inequalities had increased the vulnerability of key groups to the virus itself. It is clear that the pandemic will further compound health inequalities, with unemployment and economic losses mounting, an unresolved housing crisis and public services under intense pressure. For London the epidemic may have particularly extreme impacts, given our economies dependence on office jobs (will office workers ever come back?), on culture, entertainment and night life (massively hit by Covid safety restrictions), and for inequality overall in the city, given the very wide variations in rates of disease and death between different neighbourhoods and communities.
Public Health England’s inquiry into ‘Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19’ has shown disproportionate impacts on Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. The Bangladeshi community faced around twice the risk of death compared to White British people. People from Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black communities have between 10 and 50% higher risk of death compared to White British communities. Death rates were also twice as high in the most deprived communities and unsurprisingly, people in low-income work have also been more severely impacted. Men working as security guards, taxi drivers, bus and coach drivers, chefs, sales and retail assistants, factory workers and men and women working in social care having significantly high rates of death from COVID-19. Health inequalities in action.
The powerful discussion between Michael, Farzana and Natalie, ably chaired by Sian Williams from Toynbee Hall covered a wide range of issues, from how the virus is effecting different communities, the links to poor housing and material deprivation, to the role of empowerment for communities and questions about who decides how data is generated, what analysis is conducted and for who's benefit. If you missed the evening it is well worth watching.
Inequality harms us all, only together can we tackle it.
#FairerLondon #BuildBackBetter #HealthInequalities #NewEconomy
About the speakers
Professor Sir Michael Marmot MBBS, MPH, PhD, FRCP, FFPHM, FMedSci. Director of the International Institute for Society and Health. MRC Research Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College, London. Michael Marmot has led a research group on health inequalities for the past 30 years. He is Principal Investigator of the Whitehall Studies of British Civil Servants, investigating explanations for the striking inverse social gradient in morbidity and mortality. He leads the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and is engaged in several international research efforts on the social determinants of health. He chairs the Department of Health Scientific Reference Group on tackling health inequalities. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution for six years and is an honorary fellow of the British Academy. Internationally acclaimed, Professor Marmot is a Vice President of the Academia Europaea, a Foreign Associate Member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and the Chair of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health set up by the World Health Organization in 2005. He won the Balzan Prize for Epidemiology in 2004, gave the Harveian Oration in 2006 and won the William B. Graham Prize for Health Services Research in 2008.
Natalie Creary is the Director of Black Thrive a partnership between statutory organisations, the voluntary sector and local communities who work collaboratively to reduce mental health inequality experienced by African and African-Caribbean communities in the London Borough of Lambeth. Together they work to improve access to, and the quality of mental health services and push conventional boundaries to dismantle the structural barriers that create and sustain inequalities in mental health. Their work emphasises the importance of prevention and seeks to address disparities across the social determinants of health. Prior to joining Black Thrive, Natalie worked on a range of initiatives in the public and voluntary sector and has also spent some time in academia; lecturing in Public Health and Health & Social Care. Her current research explores the impact of the social determinants on the health experiences of Black communities. Her work seeks to share the health narratives of communities; paying attention to how race, age, class, gender and sexuality intersect to shape their lived experience of health and wellbeing.
Farzana Khan is a writer, director, cultural producer and award-winning arts educator. Farzana is the Executive Director and Co-founder of Healing Justice London (HJL) Her practice works on building community health, repair and self- transformation rooted in disability justice, survivor work and trauma-informed practice working with communities of colour and other marginalised and underrepresented groups. HJL cultivates public health provisions for collective liberation and dignifying lives made vulnerable. Farzana has over 10 years of background in Youth and Community work particularly focused on arts-based education projects both in the UK and internationally. Farzana is the former creative and strategic director at Voices that Shake, bringing together young people, artists and campaigners to develop creative responses to social injustice. She ran this working at Platform London, a climate and social justice organisation working across arts, education, research and activism. She currently is a lead strategist on Climate and Resource justice with Thirty Percy Foundation. She is the co-founder of Resourcing Racial Justice.
My Fair London supporter, Tom McDonough, outlines some of the inequalities that the coronavirus has revealed.
One of the biggest myths to emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic is that the coronavirus is a great leveller: a sickness that strikes all communities with equal venom, irrespective of social standing or ethnic group. However, that is not the case.
This myth has been pedalled by politicians eager to acquire the common touch and welcomed by those keen to see harmony prevail in a nation long divided along class lines and scarred by three years of wrangling over Brexit. This myth has been helped along by the presence of high profile COVID-19 survivors: Idris Elba, Prince Charles, Tom Hanks, footballing legend Kenny Dalglish, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and, of course, Boris ‘man of the people’ Johnson.
Whilst politicians are happy to spout social distancing measures with an air of ease and simplicity to the nation, Marmot is challenging this narrative of egalitarianism suggesting instead that lockdown has in fact “exposed the fault lines in society...those who could work from home and those who could not; those who could retreat to holiday homes and those in crowded flats; those with income reserves and those who could not afford to buy food; those in a position to offer home education to their children and those not so fortunate or well equipped."
This messaging of faux equality from our leaders and a lack of acknowledgement of their own privilege, renders them out of touch with the realities of lockdown for many individuals, ignoring the fissure of inequality throughout the UK that this disease has amplified.
While it’s undoubtedly true that COVID-19 presents us with a common cause around which many of us can rally, it certainly isn’t the case that we are all equally affected by it. Soon after the outbreak we understood that the virus posed more of a risk to older people than the rest of us; it soon emerged that men and BAME people were more likely to be felled by it. These early insights were supported by a report published by the Intensive Care National Audit Research Centre, which showed the median age of patients critically ill with COVID-19 to be 60, that 72% of these patients were men and 34% were from from BAME communities (ICNARC, May 1st 2020).
What has been less well publicised, however, is that COVID-19 is also affecting lower income earners far more than other groups. The bottom two fifths of the population are 50% more likely to fall critically ill with COVID-19 than higher earners (ICNARC, 2020). The rate of deaths involving COVID-19 is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas than the least deprived ones (ONS, May 2020).
London was affected early and has been hard hit, currently registering over 300 cases per 100,000 of the population, and just under 6,000 deaths recorded by 1st June. In the first phase (up to 17 April) Newham topped the list in the capital with 144 deaths per 100,000 population, while Brent has seen 142, Hackney 127, Tower Hamlets 123 and Lambeth 104. The inequalities that prevail in the nation can be mapped within the city with poorer, more crowded boroughs being harder hit than the affluent areas.
As is the case under normal circumstances, low income Britons are paying for their relative poverty and low social status with their lives. COVID-19 aside, the number of deaths from all causes in any given period in Britain increases with each step along the scale from the most to least privileged decile of the population. In 2017, for example, the worst off tenth had 518 deaths per 100,000 while the most privileged tenth had 152 (ONS, 2019). COVID-19 follows this pattern but in an even more aggressive way. Comparing the two poorest with the two most privileged deciles of the population gives us even starker figures, with former notching up over 120 deaths per 100,000 people and the latter recording between zero and 10 deaths per 100,000 (ONS, May 2020).
A key cause of health inequality in Britain is economic inequality. In extremely economically unequal countries, people feel anxious about their status, stressed (including in early life), atomised and - for those at the bottom - disempowered. All of these factors affect our mental state and our mental wellbeing in turn impacts our physical wellbeing (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009). Everyone’s health is worsened by inequality but people at the lower end of our social pecking order pay the highest price of all, suffering the greatest levels of stress and the worst health.
Health inequalities in the UK have been getting steadily worse since the Tory’s austerity regime began in 2010. For the first time in 100 years, life expectancy is actually decreasing for poorest people in the country. Meanwhile, the amount of time we spend in poor health has been increasing for all of us (Marmot, 2020). Given that lower income Britons were in comparatively poor health before the pandemic struck, their high COVID-19 mortality rate was to be expected.
However, this is not just a tale of health. Poorer people’s social and economic circumstances have left them exposed to elevated levels of hardship and increased financial and health risks during the COVID confinement. They are more likely to live in crowded homes with no gardens and to have jobs that bring them into contact with the public (delivery jobs, supermarket workers, rubbish collectors etc) and they are less likely to be able to work from home, or have savings to fall back on. Those working in jobs at the lower end of the income scale, such as zero hour contract roles, will also feel they lack autonomy and control over their lives.
Another group that been especially hard hit by the virus and lockdown is disabled people. Being among the poorest people, they are experiencing all the problems associated with relative poverty in addition to challenges related – directly and indirectly - to living with their disabilities under confinement conditions.
Access to food is one major issue as many seriously ill disabled people have been left off the Government’s ‘extremely vulnerable’ list, which entitles people to free food deliveries. Being too frail to risk shopping expeditions, they are either going hungry or relying on drop offs from friends, family, neighbours and volunteers if they’re lucky enough to have a support network.
Moreover, loneliness has greatly intensified for many disabled people as day centres, clubs, groups, shops and work places have closed down and visitors have stopped coming. 35% of disabled people have said that spending too much time alone is impacting on their wellbeing compared to 20% of non-disabled people (ONS, April 2020). Mental distress is also being more keenly felt among disabled people than others, with data showing that 45% are ‘very worried’ about the impact of the virus and 65% are experiencing reduced wellbeing, compared to 30% and 56%, respectively, for non-disabled people (ONS, April 2020).
Finally, the Coronavirus Act has removed safeguards from the Mental Health Act and effectively suspended the Care Act 2014 duties on local authorities in England to assess and arrange services to meet the needs of adults with disabilities and their carers. Amounting to a peeling back of disabled people’s rights, these changes will have a huge impact on people’s quality of life, especially those with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia.
COVID-19, then, is certainly not a great leveller. Instead of democratising our suffering, the pandemic has further exposed the fault lines of our fractured society. Granted, there has been some increase in our levels of co-operation in the face of our common foe, but our alleged newfound sense of national camaraderie has been overstated. Unfortunately one of the consequences of living in a highly unequal society is that people tend to be more individualistic, competitive, atomised and less interested in the common good (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2018). We may bang pots and pans to thank the NHS but the grim reality is that more than a third of people surveyed by ONS last April were not confident that a local community member would help them out in a crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. And let us never forget how people behaved in the early days of the crisis, with panic buyers emptying our supermarket shelves as they stockpiled food. Some people even posted videos of their bounty on Facebook, their footage showing rooms stacked from floor to ceiling with food. It was less ‘spirit of the blitz’ and more ‘spirit of loads-a-money!!!’. As the lock-down continued, violations of the social distancing rules seemed to increase: people were partying, holding picnics, meeting friends and sunbathing in parks. Some have blamed this behaviour on a lack of clarity over the rules, but until May 10th the rules on going out were crystal clear. While the Government’s startling hypocrisy in its defence of Dominic Cummings must have contributed recently we should not be surprised that some people have been behaving in this way due to the culture of individuality and self-value above community.
However, there are also some reasons for hope. The pandemic has revealed the importance of low paid workers and public services (and how underfunded they are). It has shown that the Government can act to support ordinary people if it wants to. It has also further reinforced the nation’s love affair with our free-at-the-point-of-use, universal, tax-payer funded healthcare system and it has reminded us how unequal we are. Across the world it does look like the countries most committed to neoliberal economic dogma have seen the largest numbers of their citizens die. Perhaps these lessons will nudge us towards the realisation that it’s time to become a fairer society.
Alex Bax, Chair of My Fair London, recently spoke to members of London Plus in the voluntary sector. Read his ideas below:
Three Ideas for a Fairer London
In our society, money and wealth equal power and status. Due to this, the impact of inequality is such that it affects how we feel about ourselves and others. The impact on the individual, psychological level is what makes inequality so insidious and harmful.
Most of us have walked into a room and, having to introduce ourselves, have experienced anxiety. It’s a very common feeling and very real. It’s a feeling triggered by feelings of social judgment; who are they? What do they think of me? Are they better than me? Do I belong in this room, space or group? When placed in a new social situation, we analyse ourselves and others in this way.
As these feelings are triggered adrenalin will be released in your brain, your blood pressure will rise, energy is being released to your muscles, your pupils will dilate – your body’s flight or fight mechanism is being switched on. Usually you are not facing a tiger and the feelings pass, the adrenalin will have helped you through the moment, but it is these feelings, and our bodies natural physiological responses demonstrate the stress inequality can trigger in our minds and bodies. When we feel judged - particularly when we feel unfairly judged - and when our status is determined by our social position, we feel threatened, and it hurts. We are deeply social animals, and therefore are attuned to position and status within the social structures we occupy. The more unequal the society, the more stress, judgement and threat we experience. In turn, the psychological impact worsens and we feel worse.
We all do much better when inequality is low, or we all do better when we all do better.
The more equal we are the more we tend to trust each other, the more we listen to others’ opinions, and the less judged we feel by the gaze of our fellow humans. Living in an unequal society is hard. It creates wear and tear on our minds and our bodies; it’s toxic. In a society where money defines your worth and determines how we value others, individualistic thinking is fostered. It makes us more fearful and less trusting of others. Higher inequality in turn creates tolerance of human suffering such as homelessness. Inequality damages our social relations.
Economic inequality – how all the stuff we have is shared out — is the most dominant form of inequality in developed countries.
What Does this Mean For Our City?
In London, money, wealth and the things it can buy are grotesquely unfairly distributed. We have been much more equal in the past and examining how inequality is different in other countries demonstrates that we can hope to be much more equal in the future.
So we want the Mayor, as well as charities, businesses, community groups and neighbourhoods - upon recognising how damaging inequality is, how its impacts are everywhere - to take sustained action to narrow the gaps between rich and poor.
What’s in it for us?
In more unequal countries, incidents of recorded mental health conditions are 2-3 times higher than than those countries with greater equality. Levels of mental illness are a pretty good marker for how well we are all doing. So more equity equals better mental health, less mental distress.
Not only that but more equality could also produce the following effects:
- Lower teenage pregnancy rates
- Less addiction
- Lower violence
- Lower rates of obesity
- More equal outcomes in education
- Higher rates of recycling
- Fewer people in prison
- Higher life expectancy
- More creativity and innovative; it is likely and logical that people will feel more productive when they are treated equally.
In particular, this final point is rather telling; don’t believe anyone who says the current economic and social structures are good for the economy. It is simply not true.
Inequality is the underlying problem. So we can therapise and medicate our distressed young people to help them manage the harm or we can create a fairer society for them to live in.
So our three proposals for the manifesto:
1) As they grow and develop young people are particularly sensitive to inequality and its negative psychological impacts; we want to see the Mayor champion fairness and equity for young Londoners. We need proper funding for schools, children’s services, youth services and a deep commitment to slanting the funding towards places and groups with the highest need. Everyone working with children should pay attention to questions of status. Schools and families need the resources so we genuinely support young people from poorer backgrounds in ways that don’t heighten stigma or negative social judgments.
2) Economic inequalities are the most powerful and dominant form of inequality and have the greatest impact on us and our society. They have been growing because of the growth in incomes and in the wealth of the rich. The average FTSE 100 CEO to employee had a pay ratio of 129:1 in 2016. By comparison, this ration was around 20:1 in the 1960s. So in our manifesto we call for the Mayor to lead by adopting and endorsing a 10:1 pay ratio in the GLA, TFL and other agencies he leads, and to call on the private sector to follow his lead. No boss needs to earn more than ten times their lowest paid worker. This would be a powerful signal to Londoners, and to the world. London should show this kind of leadership.
3) Finally, we want to see the Mayor of London identify inequality as the defining problem of his or her administration. We want to see the Mayor talk about inequality in housing, the economy and employment; in relation to knife crime, climate change, air pollution, education, health, planning and development, even in football. We want to see the Mayor name and shame the selfishness and greed at the top of our society and connect inequality and its web of consequences to the social problems we all face. We want inequality to frame and define the Mayor’s term of office and for the Mayor to set a clear target to narrow the gap between rich and poor in our city.
The following are some personal thoughts from Bill Kerry (a co-founder of The Equality Trust) on General Election 2019.
Following the general election last Thursday, it seems almost certain now that Brexit will happen in some form or other. Perhaps, rather counter-intuitively, this could lead to a revival of progressive politics. When enough people realise that the future for them, their children and their grandchildren is set to be rather grim, the British public might demand change. There is already some hope in that younger people, largely, do not vote Tory and the current prospects for their rather bleak futures mean that is unlikely to change much as they get older. Conservatism will not flourish among a public that increasingly has little or nothing to conserve.
However, I fear the Labour party faces a very difficult challenge whoever the next leader might be. It’s historic power was based on largely homogenous working class communities aided and abetted (and occasionally hindered) by a strata of the middle class that were attracted to the ideas of socialism or social democracy. There was a broad commonality of interests that allowed the construction of a horizontal sense of solidarity across an electorally viable number of people in the country. I think the inequality and poverty unleashed on the country from the 1980s onwards has smashed up that cohesion. Material differences create social distances and everything falls apart. In our unequal, rats-in-a-sack society, we are forced to look after ‘Number One’. Quaint notions such as the common good, community or collective wellbeing take a back seat and we have to live Thatcher’s baleful dream where ‘there is no such thing as society’: only individuals and their families.
The working class still exists (despite siren voices on the right telling you otherwise) as most people still have to sell their labour to survive - but there are very wide variations within the working class in terms of pay, hours, conditions, job security, prospects and pension provision – and, accordingly, wide variations in the ability to plan, get a home and start a family, the things that give people meaning and a stake in society. Both you and the Deliveroo or Uber guy will sell your labour to live, but your worlds are likely very different and your attitudes, values, perceptions, priorities and beliefs will likely be very different too. All the while the top 1% and the top 0.1% soar away, further fraying our social fabric, and are sadly mirrored by the poorest falling away into destitution and homelessness. These conditions are so much worse than even Blair and Brown had to contend with so I don’t think a turn towards centrist Labour politics will guarantee success (you would think a sensible middle option between Blair and Corbyn could be found but if any party can fail to find this sweet spot, it’s probably Labour).
While the sociological foundations of Labour’s horizontal electoral coalition have crumbled a fair bit (not entirely), I would argue that the Tories have better maintained their electoral coalition on the basis of an appeal to nationalism - vertical solidarity if you like, necks craned upwards to the flag and the Queen while kicking down on those below (immigrants, single mothers, people on benefits etc) - a strategy that allows sufficient numbers of people to feel they will be given a chance to maintain, or even advance, their place in our unequal pecking order. History shows that nationalism often trumps (no pun intended) socialism. Before WWI the left parties across Europe all vowed to stop the war because they believed the working class would not fight a capitalist war. That commitment lasted a matter of hours. Thatcher was the most hated PM on record just before the Falklands War with people sporting car stickers that read “Ditch the Bitch” and then after the war she won a landslide. Whether the Labour party likes it or not, there is currently, under our First Past The Post system, an electorally viable constituency (at least 35%+) that can be cohered around a sense of nationalism (although the identity between England on the one hand and Britain on the other is highly fluid and complex). The latest stalking donkey carrying the nationalist agenda is, of course, Brexit.
I don’t have any solutions just a feeling that Labour will now have to embrace constitutional change and a fairer voting system, something it has always - to my intense regret - opposed. I also think part of that will have to be proposals for an English parliament or parliaments (north and south or more?) to address the “English Question” and neutralise that sort of ugly English nationalism which I think is a potentially bigger threat than most nice, middle-class people would like to admit. I would like to see an egalitarian “Federation of the Isles” replace the decrepit, colonial construction that is the Union but if Scotland departs and Ireland unites, I still think the English and the Welsh (assuming they stick around) will still need much greater local and/or regional democracy. Further wishes on my Santa list would be a written constitution, an elected second chamber and an elected head of state (or a Scandinavian-style, bicycling monarchy if we really have to keep them).
There is a consistent anti-Tory voting majority in this country but the electoral system does not allow it to translate into power. It seems impossible for progressive politics to win the game as it currently stands, so maybe we should now work to change the rules.
We need to protest to stop the 'polluter elite' says environmentalist
MFL activist Tom McDonough reports on the recent talk by Dario Kenner at a My Fair London public meeting at Toynbee Hall in July
It can be easy when it comes to environmental issues for my concerns to narrow down to the individual level. Weighed down by guilt, I’m always asking myself how I can do less damage to the planet. I never drive, fly only once every two years, get my plastic, paper and glass recycled, don’t eat meat or use plastic bags or non-recyclable coffee cups and I’ve recently started using bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo bars and shaving bars to cut my plastic waste. Now I’m planning to get all my shopping from “zero waste” stores.
If I’m not looking at my own actions, I’m looking at what my fellow citizens are failing to do. I struggle to understand how people can leave their engines idling while eating fast food or watching movies on their ipads in their cars, how they can allow themselves to get multiple flights per year or come out of luxury shops laden with new plastic bags, all puffed up with pride at their new purchases.
And why are nearly all people present at environmental protests middle class and white? Hasn’t the message that we’re facing a climate emergency got through to the rest of the population?
But talks like the one delivered by independent researcher and author Dario Kenner at Toynbee Hall on 9.7.19, serve as a reminder that the solutions to our environmental woes lie more in challenging our economic elites than in persuading ordinary individuals steeped eye-ball deep in the ‘me, me, me’ consumer culture to change their behaviour.
For one thing, the super-rich do far more harm to the planet through their consumption and investments than the rest of us. Referring to damage done through consumption, Kenner pointed out that in 2013 in the UK, the richest 1% (64,000 people) were responsible for 147 tonnes of Co2 each, while the poorest 10% (6 million people) were responsible for just four tonnes per head.
Judging that wealthy people’s excessive spending habits have been well publicised already, Kenner dedicated more time in his talk to unveiling the harm done through the investments of the “polluter elite”,the wealthy people who run fossil fuel multinationals. For example, BP’s CEO, Bob Dudley, was responsible for 4,307 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2015 courtesy of his 0.008% share in the company, which generated 51,200,000 tonnes of emission that year.
“That’s the advantage of going to the individual level. You can see the motivation behind what they’re doing and they’ll do anything to defend their net worth and status,” said Kenner.
And herein lies the biggest problem of all. The wealthy people and companies running fossil fuel multinationals are doing everything in their power to block a transition to a green economy, using their political muscle to keep us dependent on the energy sources that generate their wealth.
In 2008 the Climate Change Act was passed in the UK, making us the first country to set legally binding targets aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Had we actually adhered to the Act, the UK would have taken a key step towards reducing our role in the global climate emergency.
But in 2015 the polluter elite stepped in to reverse the good work by setting up the Oil and Gas Authority, a body designed to maximise oil and gas extraction in the UK. It was established on the recommendations of a billionaire who made his money from oil services in Aberdeen.
Using a combination of lobbying power and donations, the polluter elite has also prevented us from switching to electric cars and persuaded Government to back fracking and provide oil and gas companies with subsidies.
Meanwhile, UK Governments are loath to challenge the energy companies because our economy needs oil and gas to achieve annual increases in GDP, a useless measure of progress that Governments nonetheless consider vital to their political survival.
The way forwards
The UK’s extreme economic inequality has left us with a club of super-rich polluters who feel insulated and aloof from the problems that affect the rest of us. Given that they’re unlikely to ever do anything that damages their interests and that the Government is unwilling to break free of its dependency on energy companies, the onus is on ordinary citizens to fight for change.
“The polluter elite have proven that they will fight to maintain their status and therefore we need to counter them and the best way to do this is by joining existing protests,” said Kenner.
Only if Government feels pressured by public protests, says Kenner, will it consider taking the kinds of actions that could weaken the polluter companies’ political and economic influence, with one such action being the re-routing of their subsidies to green energy companies.
With the window of opportunity to stop irreversible climate change and species extinction rapidly closing, ordinary people can no longer hide behind our curtains and hope for the best. It’s time to take to the streets.
Dario Kenner's book 'Carbon Inequality: the role of the richest in climate change', is published by Routledge.