Why East London?
I was challenged by one of our corporate partners this week to justify why ELBA focuses on east London. “What about Oldham?” was the question. Well, I have nothing against Oldham and it’s not a race to the bottom in the poverty steeplechase, but on nearly every measure, east London is the area, certainly in Greater London, where the needs are highest.
It is true that east London is changing, as it has always changed, and arguably the rate of change is increasing, driven by the housing crisis, transport infrastructure investment, and the relative availability of development land. The London 2012 Games also made an irreversible change in the way east London perceives itself and is perceived.
In the run up to the London Games the Convergence aim was that “Within 20 years the communities who host the 2012 Games will have the same social and economic chances as their neighbours across London”. The latest snapshot shows that progress towards the aim has been made for early years, education attainment at school, crime reduction and life expectancy. However, there has been slow or no progress or even a widening of the gap in relation to unemployment and employment rates, earnings, higher level qualifications, overcrowding and activity rates and obesity.
And the eastward drift of people seeking affordable housing can also push pre-existing communities who are less advantaged further east, and has the effect of hiding the continuing deprivation of some communities and areas. The relative position of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets in the index of deprivation compared to other London boroughs has improved. But this does not mean that the living conditions of all have improved – merely that incoming prosperity has shifted the averages upwards. The whole borough pictures of deprivation mask some deeper concentrations of neighbourhoods with very high levels of deprivation. Barking & Dagenham, Hackney and Newham each have over 90 per cent of their local neighbourhoods among the 40 per cent most deprived in England and none in the least deprived 40 per cent.
We have adopted a rather flexible boundary for east London – including Islington. Contrary to urban myth, Islington is not a borough of uniform prosperity, and includes some of the most deprived areas in London – 15,000 Islington children live in families where nobody works; 11% of residents looking for work, compared to 7% nationally; fewest open spaces in England; and the third highest level of child poverty in London.
But it is not all about poverty. East London is rich in other ways – it is the most diverse part of the capital and 2013 research by Southampton University found that people living in more diverse areas were more likely to have positive experiences of community cohesion. It has a history that the rest of London struggles to match – from the docks, to the City, to the waves of incoming populations across the centuries. East London has been at the centre of most political and social movements in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. It has some great architecture and so many hidden gems; a burgeoning cultural scene and great food. What more could anyone ask for?
So all in all east London is clearly the place for ELBA to be and I can’t see us making that trip to Oldham just yet.