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Rebutting Boris’ cornflake economy of inevitable and justified inequality

jennette_home.jpgAt the end of last year, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, disgracefully equated vulnerable sections of society to ‘cornflakes’ in his infamous Margaret Thatcher speech. He also went on to state that inequality is ‘natural’ and ‘essential’. His oxymoronic cure for inequality (which in London equates to thousands using foodbanks and sleeping rough whilst the ‘super-rich’ thrive) is to cause further hardship for vulnerable groups because, he believes, it is healthy to foster a ‘spirit of envy’. 

It is shameful that the Mayor of a city as diverse and wealthy as London can advocate such a view and get away with it. Despite the reams of evidence that demonstrate the structural inequality across the capital, the Mayor keeps his fingers in his ears and lets the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is made even worse that this is due not only to his general incompetence, but also to his genuine, personal outlook on society – as demonstrated in his speech at the Margaret Thatcher lecture. 

My cost of living report, Falling Further Behind, is a rebuttal to the Mayor’s dangerous ‘cornflake economics’ and underlines the structural inequality that exists in London and the actions that he can take to lower the barriers to success, which are outlined in the paragraphs that follow. 


The evidence in my report shows that Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds face barriers to success due to low pay; employment discrimination; food poverty; lack of appropriate childcare provision; high public transport fares; and high rents. A report by the Runnymede Trust for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community in 2012 found that 25% of the unemployment rate for Black and Asian men and women is a result of prejudice and direct discrimination. The report also found that BAME women face discrimination ‘at every stage of the recruitment process.’ London’s Poverty Profile shows that half of all people in poverty in London are from BAME backgrounds. 

Londoners with disabilities face barriers due to a smaller supply of suitable, accessible housing; cuts to disability allowances; food poverty; inaccessible public transport; lack of specialised childcare provision; and barriers to employment. This in turn, has forced many to turn to food banks and risk their health by cutting back on heating so they can afford the bills. According to the London Cost of Living Survey, 74% of disabled Londoners have cut back on heating their homes in order to afford their energy bills. 

Women face various barriers due to a lack of affordable childcare; low pay and low pensions; insecure employment contracts; public transport safety concerns; and widespread sexual discrimination. Once again, the Mayor falls short when addressing this inequality. Indeed, in February 2014, the Mayor claimed women are not ‘anywhere near’ achieving equal employment opportunities in the labour market, but that his own pool of advisers, in which ‘almost half’ of the staff are women, was an example of how things could be done. However, it turns out that only 4 of his 14 paid advisers are actually women (28%). 

The inequality story for young and older Londoners can also not just be dismissed as a result of, what the Mayor, in his speech, put down to, ‘natural and God-given talent’. Children and young people are facing barriers to success due to hunger impacting on their education; being forced to pay out high rents for accommodation; the cancellation of the education maintenance allowance; increased university tuition fees; and a lack of job opportunities. Meanwhile, elder Londoners are facing hardship due to high energy bills; malnutrition; and rising costs of everyday necessities. As highlighted in my report, it also appears that Londoners are retiring later than people in other parts of the UK with 11% of those aged 65 and over in work compared with the national average of 9.5%. In the North East, this figure is 6% (Source: ONS Annual Population Survey). 

The negative impact of the cost-of-living crisis extends to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, too. Those who identify as LGBT face societal discrimination which feeds into employment opportunities and, notably, housing. Due to a high risk of domestic abuse, LGBT Londoners who are victims of abuse also struggle from a lack of emergency accommodation in the city. Studies have also shown that the vast majority of homelessness services work with people who identify as LGBT. 

Whilst the Mayor takes economic advice from the back of his cereal box, my report suggests that Londoners across the city are suffering. I urge the Mayor to take steps to address this inequality to help those groups protected under the Equality Act 2010. I believe that action can be taken on these issues and that inequality is not inevitable. It is certainly not ‘essential’ as the Mayor suggests. Boris argues that vulnerable Londoners require inequality and envy to ‘shake’ them to the top, but it is he that needs to be shaken into action. The evidence and recommendations outlined in my report show that the barriers facing vulnerable groups are not ‘natural’, but structural, and it is time for the Mayor to recognise this and work to make London a city of equal opportunity for all, instead of a city of inevitable and, as he argues, justifiable inequality for the majority.

Jennette Arnold OBE AM has been a member of the London Assembly since 2000. Initially a London-wide member, since 2004 Jennette has represented the North East London constituency of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.  Jennette’s work focuses on the key strategic issues that impact directly on the lives of her constituents – improved transport services, crime reduction and affordable housing. She is also a champion in the fight against any form of injustice and discrimination.

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commented 2014-12-13 19:42:11 +0000
Falling further behind: the impact of high living costs on vulnerable BAME communities

I first of all congratulate you for the wide range of BAME issues you have successfully dealt with and the far reaching recommendations you have proposed. The title ‘falling further behind’ is self explanatory and the report hits the nail on its head – the impact of Tory cuts on BAME community. You rightly argue that Mayor’s cornflakes economy leaves out other equally important factors such as social, cultural and racial that also lead to inequality and discrimination.

Attributing inequality only to economic disparity and endorsing it as positive aspect demonstrates his single dimensional perspective, which showcases glaring absence of appetite to tackle discrimination and inequality in the 21st Century London. As a two time Mayor of London and the one aspiring to re-enter parliament from a London constituency, it is not unfair to expect certain level of commitment to the BAME community he represents. Merely aiming to have the workforce represent the communities it serves – triggered by PC Howard’s worst racial abuse, victimization and cover-up by the London Met – at the tail end of his two terms without having an implementable plan of action is too little and too late.

One of the recommendations of your report to adopt the Runnymede’s Inequality Scorecard could potentially pick the discrepancies in GLA family the Mayor is responsible for. The organizations such as TfL and subsidiary companies such as Crossrail that fall within the powers of Mayor of London are referred to as GLA family in this paper. It is acknowledged that producing a scorecard will not generate race equality on its own but can become a powerful vehicle for BAME leaders to work towards racial equality. Adopting the Inequality Scorecard in itself is going to be a big milestone with far reaching implications for London in general and GLA family in particular.

However in the short and medium terms, to push the Mayor for more commitment to the BAME community, we also need to focus a bit more on the GLA family he leads. If you survey informally a small sample of talented and ambitious BAME employees working in GLA family you will find out how covert racial discrimination is thriving right under the Mayor’s nose. BAME employees are systematically held under the glass ceiling. Their career aspirations are often shattered by biased line managers. If BAME employees stand up to them, you know where they end up – ruining their careers and lives as a result of HR sponsored victimization aimed at making and proving the aggrieved mentally ill; unaffordable legal costs – thanks to the Tories for the near destruction of legal aid – and the long drawn legal processes where racial discrimination can hardly be proved. Unions are generally useless when it comes to race discrimination cases.
Social mobility and BAME employees becoming role models sound good in university campuses and in the left wing media coverage. In reality, there is a wide gap between the values organizations and subsidiary companies under GLA preach and the actual discriminatory practices their BAME employees face particularly when they are bright and talented and show initiative and thirst for career progression.

The Way Forward

The first and foremost commitment from Boris for the BAME community working for the GLA family would be to tie him down to his own aim of workforce representing the communities it serves. As you are fully aware; as the BAME representation increases the racial discrimination decreases. NHS for instance can be considered comparatively a better and more mature employer when it comes to BAME representation and their career progression. The Mayor needs to spell out a time-bound implementation plan set out across the GLA family; not only at the lower rungs but across the rank and file of the organizations he is responsible for. As a preparatory work to get the Mayor commit we first need to have clear understanding of the current scale of the problem. Fast tracking the adoption of the Inequality Scorecard that you are proposing and to include in its brief for commissioning the extraction and publication of aspects relating to employment inequality and other areas you may have priority for as the scorecard progresses rather than having to wait for the entire process to complete. Inequality Scorecard should include in addition to the percentage of BAME employees serving in each department/directorate across the GLA family:

1. the percentage of BAME employees serving on admin support, non-managerial admin, non-managerial professional, managerial (all categories), directorial and senior management roles.
2. the contribution of the line-managers leading teams; directors leading the departments; and the CEOs leading the company towards increase or decrease in the overall BAME percentage and across various categories noted above. Accountability towards redressing race inequality is paramount.

This work if pledged will also give boost to Labour prospects for parliamentary elections next year and Mayoral elections in 2016 by reassuring the BAME community on equality and fairness that Labour represents and its delivery if elected.

Finally, it would be very useful if extracts of your report are published in the Guardian from early January 2015. Publication in Guardian will spread awareness of the impact of cuts on the vulnerable communities at least among the fence sitters if not staunch Tory voters in the run up to May 2015.
published this page in Blog 2014-03-27 11:39:22 +0000

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