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London's challenges in 2023 - and how to tackle them


This piece is more than a year old. Read our blog on London's challenges in 2024 here.

What are going to be some of the major issues for Londoners in 2023 and what changes do we need to tackle them?

It feels like we are living through crisis after crisis. But, in our sector, we believe that change is possible. In this piece we hear from some of the organisations we fund working to create a fairer society for all Londoners. They discuss some of the key issues at hand - such as housing, migration and employment - and propose solutions for how to create a more equal city, with an introduction by our Chief Executive Manny Hothi.

Introduction from Manny Hothi

It’s an understatement to say that 2022 was an eventful year. The chaos and hardship that unfolded means that many of us will just be looking forward to more stability in the year ahead.

But stability won’t be enough for the millions of people in the city that are struggling with the cost of just about everything. Their lives are a daily struggle to make ends meet. And whilst there are signs that inflation has peaked, prices aren’t exactly tumbling.

At the same time, our public services are in crisis. People on low-incomes do not have the luxury of paying for private services, and often lack the ‘sharp-elbows’ of the middle classes to demand their needs are met. A decline in public services – especially schools and the NHS – hit the poorest the hardest.

For charities across the city, competition for funding is likely to be fierce. Volatility in stock markets means that endowments like ours can lose value at the very same time more money is needed. We’ve made the difficult decision to pause on funding new organisations so that we can properly support those organisations we are already committed to.

The reality is, for many Londoners, a successful 2023 will be about staying afloat. And for the people working to make London fairer, the challenge will be to avoid burnout and maintain hope. It will be hard, but what are we if not believers that a better future is possible.

London in 2023: In-work poverty. Jake Shepherd, Social Market Foundation

The issue

The cost of living crisis has been in the political spotlight – and at the forefront of families’ financial concerns – for much of 2022. With inflation not expected to fall until later in the new year, it’s an issue unlikely to go away anytime soon.

The scale of the crisis means that even those in paid employment are being dragged into hardship. Analysis by the Legatum Institute shows that rising costs will result in 2.75 million more people in the UK falling into poverty in 2022/23 – a projected total of 16.65 million – including over a million people from working families. Londoners are likely to be impacted most, as they live in the region most affected by poverty and high living costs.

The solution

A societal challenge this great requires a proportionate response. Support should be delivered primarily by government and national policymaking. But employers also have a role to play, as they have a direct influence over the factors that cause or deepen poverty. Whether it be the wages they pay, the number of working hours they provide, or the workplace benefits offered, there are a wide number of measures employers can take to help their staff.

Our research shows employees want, and need, their employers to do more to help tackle London’s in-work poverty problem. But incentives have to be put in place for employers to come to terms with their pivotal position and shift towards a culture of employment that improves the wellbeing of workers.

To this end the SMF is working with Trust for London to establish a new business standard, one that encourages London employers to do more to help tackle working poverty. The design of our benchmark is well underway – we hope to unveil it in 2023 and help deliver real change for people in poverty.

Jake Shepherd is a senior research at the independent think tank the Social Market Foundation. We are currently funding the Social Market Foundation to create and promote a benchmark to assess businesses over their record on addressing poverty.

London in 2023: Part-time workers. Jane van Zyl, Working Families

The issue

As we head into 2023, the recession will really start to bite, prompting an expected wave of redundancies.

This is particularly alarming for part-time workers, three quarters of whom are women – or those returning from maternity leave who are often more vulnerable to redundancy than their full-time colleagues.

In the past months, more women who work part-time because they are unable to afford childcare are contacting us for help because they are facing redundancy. For many families who are just about keeping afloat, losing a wage at a time of soaring living costs is enough to tip them into poverty.

The solution

We need to protect those most at risk through legislative measures, which the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill we are working on with Dan Jarvis MP will go some way toward. The safety net for those who are made redundant also needs to be fortified, including benefit increases in line with inflation, to mitigate the effects on families already struggling to get by.

But even more, we need an overhaul in attitudes towards part-time workers. We need to start valuing their contribution in boosting productivity and engagement as well as increasing diversity. Employers have a key role to play here, by investing in the development and progression of part-time workers that recognises their worth and protects them from redundancy in future.

Jane van Zyl is the CEO of Working Families, the UK's national charity for working parents and carers. We currently fund Working Families to provide disadvantaged London parents with legal advice and to improve understanding of the issues they face.

London in 2023: Undocumented migrants. Kimberly Garande, We Belong

The issue

The Cost-of-living crisis is a key issue affecting many people across the UK. As the means of living become more unaffordable, the crisis will lay a heavy burden on migrants who are in the process of regularising their immigration status.

Under the current system, migrant applicants must rely on applying to the Home Office to regularise their status. The current cost for their right to remain in the UK is £2,600 in excess, which tethers many in a costly process to maintain it as thousands of migrants in the UK are reliant on the regularisation of their immigration status in order to work, access education, health services and more.

Last year, there were insurmountable reports of families struggling to afford to feed themselves and keep their homes warm amid rising living costs. The harsh reality as a result of inflation is another hurdle for migrants on the margins of society.

They will be facing the tentacles of this nationwide issue through the lingering clutch of the hostile environment policies which make life more difficult for migrants living in the UK. Families will be forced to choose between paying steep fees to maintain their immigration status or acquiring essentials and adequate housing conditions.

The solution

We Belong would like to see change through more humane approaches to policy decisions and a review of the extortionate immigration application fees. We would like to see an increase in fee waivers and a removal of no recourse to public funds conditions.

Kimberly Garande is the Youth Development Lead at We Belong. We Belong is a migrant youth-led organisation, campaigning for the rights of young migrants.

London in 2023: Migrant workers.Ibrahim Avcil, Refugee Workers and Cultural Association

The issue

As 2022 passes the baton onto a new year, we’ve no doubt that many of the issues that have compounded over the past few years are also being carried over.

Events such as Brexit, COVID-19 and, most recently, an intense cost of living crisis which has gripped businesses and workers across the spectrum have set off, or worsened, many of the issues impacting on people’s everyday lives. Migrant workers – both documented and undocumented – are especially vulnerable.

Through our research we know that low pay – below minimum wage – and a lack of basic worker rights, such as holiday entitlement, sick pay and maternity pay, are rife among migrant workers in London. These are major problems that will continue throughout 2023.

Exploitation of migrant workers is an extensive and multi-faceted issue – but financial instability is a key factor. The cost of living in London is high and accommodation – more specifically, rent – is the greatest expense.

Expensive housing cost acts as the trigger for many other problems. The risk of exploitation at work; falling into debt; poor mental health; domestic violence; poor nutrition; drug addiction – all of these issues and more are made more likely by a lack of disposable income after paying rent.

The solution

We need to better understand these issues faced by migrant workers, with an emphasis on housing. More research should take place, both qualitative and quantitative, to identify the necessary solutions to alleviate rent induced problems faced by migrant workers. The approach will need to take place at both a policy and grassroots level.

At a policy level, we would like it to be made easier for migrant workers to be able to legally rent rooms or homes without extensive documentation, levels of income declarations and other administrative burdens.

We would also like to see an independent community-led regulatory body which assesses private rent and landlord misconduct – available in multiple language. Those facing evictions should be able to access emergency funds to prevent homelessness.

Finally, undocumented migrant workers – whose issues are compounded by their immigration status – should be offered a resolution or amnesty, to protect them when they rent private accommodation.

Ibrahim Avcil works for the Refugee Workers Cultural Association. In 2022, he was the lead researcher on a new report showing the perspectives of migrant Turkish and Kurdish workers in North London.

London in 2023: The Housing Crisis. Sharon Hayward, London Tenants Federation

The issue

The whole social housing sector has been neglected and underfunded for at least 40 years. Over the last 10 years in London, 23,000 social-rented homes have been demolished. This is almost double the number of new homes delivered (12,050).

Throughout 2023, there will continue to be a huge unmet – and growing – need for social-rented housing. Without action, London’s housing crisis will rumble on, pushing millions of low-income households into unacceptably harsh conditions. Adults and children will remain stuck in poor quality temporary homes – separated from close friends, families and social networks. Thousands more will be in overcrowded conditions, deteriorating their health and wellbeing.

And this chronic shortage of social rented housing will continue to mean millions are in private rented housing – often in poor conditions and unaffordable without benefit dependency.

The solution

To turn the tide on this housing crisis, we would like to see the Mayor of London producing a new housing needs survey. This would help us to understand the exact levels of need for social-rented homes, laying bare the extent of the crisis and adding pressure to the government for funding and higher targets for this type of housing. We also want to see the Mayor of London set targets for the reduction of overcrowded homes.

Finally, the demolition of suitable social-rented housing needs to stop. We need more social housing, not less. The last few years have also seen increasing numbers of ‘regeneration’ projects of housing estates which, too often, result in the number of social homes being further depleted. We would like to see tenant-led guidance being adopted on this – to put the people who live in these estates’ voices at the centre of any ‘regeneration’ plans. Funding for any schemes that involve the demolition of social-rented homes should be rejected, unless those homes are structurally unsound.

Sharon Hayward is the coordinator of London Tenants Federation, an organisation providing a representative voice for social housing tenants in London. They are also a member of the London Housing Panel.

London in 2023: Social Security. Michael Orton, the Commission on Social Security.

The issue

The cost of living crisis, which will remain a key issue throughout 2023, has woken many people up to the realities of poverty in the UK and the struggle so many people face to make ends meet. For millions, the year will be defined by the government’s approach to social security.

Social security is our society’s approach to welfare, benefits and state support. It was designed to support everyone, especially when we need it the most. But people are increasingly relying on foodbanks, struggling to pay their energy bills, and having to choose between heating their home and eating – these are just a few of the most visible signs that the government hasn’t updated the system to meet modern challenges. A fit for purpose social security system is fundamental to tackling the cost of living crisis, poverty and inequality.

The solution

There are a number of ways our government can modernise the social security system so it responds to our society’s needs. Increasing benefits in line with inflation was one step and the Keep the Lifeline campaign continues.

But to really tackle these problems, a wider overhaul of the system is needed. At the Commission on Social Security, we have created one such Plan. Based on submissions from hundreds of members of civil society, we are calling for a Guaranteed Decent Income so that everybody has enough to live, as well as raising Child Benefit, a new approach to disability benefits and prevention being better than cure.

Our government has a responsibility to make changes like these to support us all to get by. But change on the scale that is needed won’t happen without major effort.

One way big change happens is when lots of different people and organisations all start saying the same thing. So while it would be wonderful if 2023 saw government making real improvements to the social security system, a more realistic starting point would be for civil society groups to use shared messages and shared proposals – such as those set out by the Commission on Social Security.  Our collective voice is much more powerful than any of us by ourselves. And together our calls for change can become so loud that the government has to act.

Michael Orton is a Project Coordinator for the Commission on Social Security and researcher at Warwick University. The Commission on Social Security is a group of former and current benefit claimants - experts by experience - who have created a progressive blueprint for changes to the social security system.