Rich Ghetto: London’s Housing Crisis

As I creep closer to 30, my prolonged bouts of BBC Radio 4 listening get more frequent.

Recently, a guest on heated debate programme The Moral Maze suggested that the coalition government’s happy slashing of the benefits system had aggravated ‘a housing market that has failed entirely to deliver for vast swathes of people’.

As I looked around the expensive, rented box that sucks up 45 per cent of my income, I realised Radio 4 listening is the closest I’ll probably get to middle class ownership, and that, as Gen Y riff-raff priced out of the housing market, my demographic was exactly the kind of suckers being lamented on the show.

In the UK, London is easily the biggest cock-tease working this issue. That’s an official status, by the way, and not a bitter insult: in 2011, The London School of Economics commissioned a report anticipating the benefit reforms currently taking their toll on the capital.

‘London is England’s richest city,’ the dossier cheerily began, before warning it is ‘also its poorest and most unequal’. Nice, balanced views, but the problem is that the ‘poor’ and ‘unequal’ parts aren’t as well publicised among the young Brits who flee to London in search of economic asylum.

When they arrive, they might get jobs, but earnings from said employment will be pumped into hideously overpriced private rent for a home shared with other adults, all of whom are forced to live like college students because there is a desperate shortage of affordable housing.

Try getting a mortgage, then, you might think. Forget it – the price of a deposit alone makes this a pipe dream. Move to a less desirable area maybe? Nope. The BBC estimates that the average price for a terraced house in Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest boroughs, is £519,263.

Half a million. That’s half a million for one of the poorest postcodes. When did poverty, crime and impoverishment become so damned exclusive?

The recently capped housing benefit, or Local Housing Allowance, used to supplement many working people’s income (note the word working, not scrounging), so expensive was their rent even in places such as Tower Hamlets.

No one is saying the government should sponsor people who can’t afford to keep up with the Joneses, but they should know their cuts won’t force down private rents as hoped. Landlords will only grip their Ace closer to their chest until a player who can pay out sashays in.

As Mayor, Boris Johnson should worry that ‘vast swathes’ of people have nowhere to make a home in the city celebrated for its biodiversity.

If nothing changes, London will become a rich ghetto populated by old, white, middle class men who look a lot like Boris and his Conservative colleagues, Ian Duncan Smith and George Osborne.

It’ll be a case of, ‘young clowns to the left, poor jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you!’ W1 won’t just be a postcode; it’ll be a byword for White and Wealthy – soon the only people who’ll be able to settle in LDN.

Image by EEPaul courtesy of Flickr

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