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Stories behind the data - Brent


London’s Poverty Profile provides data across different indicators to shine a light on the main drivers of poverty across London. You can now download snapshots of key indicators for each of the 32 boroughs using our new Borough Profiles.

We also want to show how these realities impact local people by sharing real stories. Trust for London supports hundreds of organisations, many of which provide support on the ground at a local level. Here we share some insight into experiences in Brent, a borough with one of the highest poverty levels in London.

Advice for Renters provides housing advice to local residents in the London borough of Brent. We asked the organisation to share its reflections on day to day life for some of the people it supports.

Behind Tower Hamlets, Brent has the highest poverty rate in the capital after housing costs, with 36% of households in poverty – 9% above the London average, and 14% above the England average. These high levels of deprivation are something that the groups we fund in the borough witness every day.

According to the anti-poverty charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, poverty means ‘not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, or buy the essentials for your children. It means waking up every day facing insecurity, uncertainty, and impossible decisions about money. It means facing marginalisation – and even discrimination – because of your financial circumstances. The constant stress it causes can lead to problems that deprive people of the chance to play a full part in society’. In our experience at Advice for Renters, this definition describes the reality of daily life for the Brent residents that present at our service.

Nicola McMullen, Advice for Renters

Brent has the highest unemployment rate in the capital – so it’s of no surprise that it also has higher than average numbers out-of-work and on benefits. London’s Poverty Profile shows that 15.8% of working-age adults in Brent are out-of-work and on benefits, and Advice for Renters suggest this number may have increased since the pandemic.

Especially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is an increased number of residents relying on Universal Credit after losing their jobs or becoming so ill they can no longer work.

Nicola McMullen, Advice for Renters

Unemployment rate by London borough (2016-19 Q2 and 2019-22 Q2)

They gave us examples of two residents that they have supported who lost their jobs during the pandemic and are unable to return to work. Both stories highlight the shortfalls in the current benefit system.

One Brent resident, a 64-year-old identified as DS, has only £200 left a month once deductions have been made and rent has been paid. Half of this then goes on electricity and gas, leaving her with very little to live on, and leading her into heavy debt.

Single mother MN lost her job during the coronavirus pandemic due to health. After she applied for Universal Credit, her entire payment was sent to her landlord to pay for rent and rent arrears. This left her with no income to feed her family or heat her home, which already had a severe damp and mould problem, worsening her underlying respiratory problems.

Brent also has one of the lowest incomes in the city – meaning that for those who are in employment, benefits may also be needed to make ends meet.

At a first glance, many residents are unaware of the support available to them and do not claim the full amount of benefit they are entitled to. However, even where the correct benefits are being received, they are simply insufficient to maintain an acceptable standard of living. The benefit cap, delays in receiving payments and deductions for past debts can leave people with very little to no income at all.

Proportion of borough residents' jobs that are paid below London Living Wage (2021)

Further, those who have managed to continue working are equally unable to live on their salaries, even when working multiple jobs, due to low wages compared with the rising cost of living.

Nicola McMullen, Advice for Renters

The result of all these factors is, for many, a very difficult situation during the current cost of living crisis. Advice for Renters said:

“For several groups, including the elderly and those with disabilities, being able to adequately heat the home is especially important, yet residents regularly face the choice between paying for food or keeping their property warm. There are many who are therefore unable to afford other necessary items too, such as single parents unable to buy clothes or baby essentials for their children.”

Explore London’s Poverty Profile for insights into poverty and inequality across the capital.