For millions of Londoners – and millions more households nationwide – the economic impact of the pandemic has been disastrous. It’s meant reduced income, increased job insecurity and, for some, the pain and hardship of unemployment.
With inflation rising, energy bills soaring and this Tory government determined to plough ahead with unfair increases in National Insurance contributions, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak seem intent on making life harder, not easier, for many Londoners and Brits. Their actions will dramatically increase the cost of living for all families. But we know it’s the poorest – who spend a larger share of their income on food and energy – that will suffer the most.
Londoners I meet are already facing an unprecedented squeeze on their budgets and are struggling to make ends meet. And so, it beggars belief that this government is also proceeding with a particularly cruel set of cuts and reforms to Universal Credit.
While this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated deep inequalities in our society, it’s also laid bare the appalling human cost of more than a decade of Tory austerity. The Tories now insist that their aim is to ‘level up’. But this will come as something of a surprise to all those in our capital city – and around the country – who have found their incomes and living standards dragged down since they came to power in 2010.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the so-called ‘levelling up’ project is more about pork-barrel politics than helping those communities that are in genuine need of investment and support. London, for example, seems to be completely excluded from Tory thinking despite the fact that our councils and public services have been chronically underfunded and our city is home to some of Britain’s most deprived communities.
Regrettably, not only do the Tories want to wash their hands of our great capital city, but they also see an opportunity for political gain by fanning anti-London sentiment and pitting other parts of our country against one another. This is both reckless and wrong. A family growing up in poverty in Barking and Dagenham is just as deserving and in need of support as families in the same situation living in Blackburn or Darlington.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of Londoners – nearly 80% – have seen a rise in their cost of living over the last six months. Meanwhile, more than a third of Londoners have struggled to pay their household bills during the same period – a far cry from the streets paved with gold image cynically painted by Tory ministers and others.
More than half a million London households were in fuel poverty in 2019, and recent rises in energy prices are estimated to have plunged a further 75,000 households into fuel poverty. Sadly, what is happening in London is mirrored all over the country. As costs rise and incomes fall in real terms, hardworking families in local communities are feeling scarred and badly let down by the policies of this Tory government.
As the Labour mayor of London, I’m taking action to help those struggling with rocketing costs. I stood for re-election last May promising to support and deliver jobs, jobs, jobs, and my work to ensure Londoners have the skills they need for good jobs is a key part of this.
Helping Londoners to acquire the skills that either allow them to earn more in their current roles or secure better-paid jobs is going to be key to easing the financial pressures felt by many in our city. So this week, we launched a new skills roadmap for London, with an offer of free training for any Londoner aged 19 and over who is unemployed, on a low income, or has limited formal education.
This new offer builds on our already strong track record. Since 2019, we have supported more than 400,000 Londoners to skill-up and access good work, including many Londoners from minority and low-income backgrounds.
From delivering record numbers of council homes to retaining the Hopper fare (allowing London’s commuters to make unlimited bus journeys for £1.55 within an hour), and from our warmer homes programme to investing in financial and welfare advice for Londoners, I’ll continue to do everything in my power to alleviate the financial burden on Londoners. But the simple truth is I can’t do it alone.
Nobody in our city or country should have to choose between feeding their family or heating their home but as long as this Tory crisis goes on unchecked, more and more Londoners and Brits will be faced with this very bleak choice. It’s time this Tory government got its act together and started focusing on how it can support our communities, rather than how it can save its own skin.