Lessons and questions from London’s Poverty Profile

Last week, Trust for London and the New Policy Institute [NPI] released the fourth edition of London’s Poverty Profile. This independent report draws on official government data to paint a picture of poverty and inequality across the Capital. By compiling statistics from across a range of government agencies, the report succinctly takes a cross-sector look at poverty that forms an important resource for practitioners delivering development and services across London’s public sector.

The extent and nature of poverty across London is important to grapple with. In the three years to 2011-12, 2.1 million Londoners were in poverty, representing 28% of the population.  Further, there has been a notable shift in the profile of the ‘typical’ Londoner in poverty over the past ten years: from workless, housed in social rent and residing in Inner London, to in-work, housed in the private rented sector, and residing in Outer London (see chart below). The sheer size of this group, together with its shifting demographic and geographic profile, heightens the importance of inter-organisation collaboration in tackling poverty.

Source: London’s Poverty Profile 2013 Key Findings

The report spans a number of themes, from income inequality to welfare reform. Housing – the key poverty issue identified in the last report in 2011 – continues to be a major contributor to poverty as housing costs rise. Unemployment, up 40% from 2007 to 2012, is also highlighted as a significant challenge, as are the almost 600,000 jobs that paid below the London Living Wage of £8.55/hour in 2012.

There are some good news stories, as gains in education and health have been made since the report’s first edition in 2009 – although inequality persists here across the Capital, and factors like the pressure on school places jeopardise these gains. It is benefits and welfare reform, however, that are the stand-out issues of this Poverty Profile edition – and which notably, given the time lag in data availability, have only begun to make a measurable impact.

At the launch, NPI posed two questions inspired by the report which are particularly relevant to us here at Future of London. First, what are the local implications of the changes shown in London’s poverty profile? For example, what are the implications for the noted shift in housing tenure from social rent to PRS, or for delivering services in sub-regions that have seen significant increases in levels of deprivation? Second, what can be done within and across London to tackle poverty – for example, how can transport be made more accessible for those looking for employment or wanting to obtain further education or training?

There’s space here for both big ideas and practicalities. Some tools rest in the hands of the UK government, so there’s an important role for evaluating national policy against progress on easing poverty and inequality; a re-assessment of the Affordable Rent Model’s designation as “social housing” is one such consideration that we called for in our major report on the ARM in London.

Taking a look at London’s relationship with central government is another big-picture strategy. Tony Travers (a respondent to the London Poverty Profile launch event) highlighted the small amount of tax that London is able to retain; this has us thinking about his June 2013 lecture on the London Finance Commission recommendations, and particularly wondering about the potential programmes or services that could be funded through a devolution of property taxes to the Capital.

There’s also a clear, practical need for something we’re well-versed in: sharing best practice between organisations. In part, this is about equipping the public sector with information and lessons from other organisations that have longer or greater experience working with poverty. This was captured well by a launch attendee in the education sector, who highlighted the potential for knowledge-sharing between schools experienced in working with children in poverty and areas and institutions which have seen a recent, marked increase in poverty incidence.

What also stands out is something regeneration practitioners understand well: the (ever-increasing) importance of working across sectors in tackling socio-economic challenges. In the face of public spending cuts, service delivery is evolving (see our recent report) and calling for creative responses. How, for example, can we connect the increasing number of poor in private rented accommodation with programmes to empower them, without the traditional channel of social landlords?

Tackling the capital’s poverty is clearly a complex – and growing – challenge. A thorough understanding of the poverty and inequality landscape is an obvious starting point, and London’s Poverty Profile provides a valuable tool here.

London’s Poverty Profile operates a comprehensive website that offers breakdowns of poverty and inequality across the Capital by boroughs, topics, and groups. The report is also available to download: http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/