London’s Policies to Tackle Inequality Shouldn’t Be Colourblind

by Kiri Kankhwende 

London is open for business, open to the world. It’s the London message, one that we’ve heard even more than usual since the referendum and which has been marshalled in defiance of mounting post-referendum racism.

London’s pride in its multiculturalism at a time when the country seems to be folding inwards matters a great deal, but slogans are easy; the reality of opening up London’s opportunities for all of its communities is harder to realise.

Racial inequality is also part of the London story, visible in every borough if you care to scratch beneath the surface. Ethnic minorities are often at the sharp end of number of issues, but the policy solutions are often colourblind, relying on a rising tide to lift all boats.

It’s not enough. Take housing, an issue that cuts across every borough whether you’re buying, renting or unable to do either. Research from the Runnymede Trust last week showed Black Londoners are almost five times more likely to be homeless than White people, while British Asians are 1.5 times more likely to be homeless.

Many factors contribute to this and the problem is not new; all the more reason that it should be cause for targeted attention. How else will there be meaningful change?

Naturally, housing is a top priority for the Mayor but it’s too early in his term to see how his plans shake out. The London Living Rent, which aims to provide housing with rents based on a third of average household incomes in each borough, is a major policy for his administration. There are also plans for more affordable housing. It’s all desperately needed, but more needs to be done to tackle persistent racial inequalities in housing specifically as well.

Another report by The Runnymede Trust on ethnic inequalities in London more generally found that in every London borough, “ethnic inequalities are persistent and widespread, particularly in employment and housing.” The authors stressed that the situation will not alleviate itself without intervention by central and local government, “especially in London where nearly half the population is black and minority ethnic.”

London is an obvious place to start, but I don’t think it’s letting daylight in on magic to reveal that we have a national problem. In August, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s review of racial equality in areas such as health, education, jobs and pay found “entrenched long-term systemic unfairness” for ethnic minorities in Britain.

Commission Chair David Isaacs told the Guardian: “If you are black or an ethnic minority in modern Britain, it can often still feel like you are living in a different world, never mind being part of a one nation society.”

London is part of that picture. In his bid for further power to be devolved to the capital after Brexit, Mayor Sadiq Khan argued that “when London succeeds, Britain succeeds”, pointing out that London’s population is the same as Wales and Scotland combined but has less control over its affairs.

Whatever you think of greater devolution for London, it’s undeniable that London’s success impacts the rest of the country, contributing almost a third of the UK tax revenue. But that’s not the only measure of London’s success. The capital could take the lead nationally on tackling racial inequality in housing and other areas, and use its considerable influence to lobby central government to play its part too.

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White Men Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.

Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an MSc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on Twitter @madomasi 

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