Islington is sometimes thought of as a rich borough, yet those who live in it know it’s a little bit more complicated than that. Unlike most boroughs in London, where deprivation is confined to particular areas, the poor areas of Islington are spread throughout it. This is because it doesn’t have the large high-rise estates typical of most of London1.
Yet Islington is still one of the most deprived areas in the UK, and its poverty looks set to become more extreme as inequality is stretched: while the richest fifth of the population are predicted to lose less than 1% of their income due to spending cuts, the poorest fifth will lose an average of 12%2. Combined with Islington’s sky high rents, the cuts to benefits, public services and jobs currently being unravelled are likely to land a heavy blow. The hardship and uncertainty this produces will undoubtedly be worse for those who are already poor, but, in the end, it will damage the vibrant and diverse area that we all enjoy, creating a poorer environment for us all.
This is a summary of how Islington currently fares in terms of poverty and deprivation and who is most likely to do worse as result of government policy, but it is by no means a comprehensive review. For example, it does not even begin to touch on the effects of withdrawal of public services, or closures of community spaces, which are vital to people’s social, mental and physical health.
Islington, Poverty & Benefits
Poverty in Islington is widespread. As such, it has a disproportionate number of people on benefits, many of whom will be in worse poverty after the full effect of the cuts are felt.
Of the whole of the UK, Islington’s children are the second most likely to be living in houses that receive work benefits3. Almost half of children in Islington live in poverty, while 39% live in workless households. Islington also has an unusually large proportion of older people living in poverty with some wards in the bottom 1% nationally.
Out of the boroughs in London, Islington has the second highest proportion of people living on disability living allowance and incapacity benefit. It is predicted that around 12,000 Islington residence will be reassessed in the coming years, and of those it is likely that 2,500 to 5,000 people will not qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA).
Mental health problems are a serious problem in Islington, and people with them are particular vulnerable changes in the benefit system. Within London, Islington has the highest proportion of people who claim incapacity benefit because of mental health problems, and it has the highest suicide rate in England and Wales. Around 6,250 of Islington residence with mental health problems will be transferred from the former incapacity benefit to ESA within the next three years.
When Universal Credits are introduced in 2013, a system that will amalgamate means-tested benefits and tax credits available into one single benefit, it is expected that 1.4 millions families in the UK will be worse off. The Institute of Fiscal studies has predicted that, on average, poor couples with children will benefit but lone parents will do worse.
The good news (??!!) is that Islington residence can appeal against benefit refusals. Appeals have an overall success rate of 36% for 2009-10, but Islington’s team had a success rate of 97%. To get their help:
Islington and Housing
Overcrowding and homelessness are poised to shoot up around the country due to increases in unemployment, repossessions and housing benefit changes – evictions and displacement just cranking up the pressure on families already losing out because of the cuts. The housing problem is largely due to high rents and a lack of social and affordable housing, rather than a problem with the benefit system. Meanwhile, the cap on housing benefits is widely predicted to force poor people to move out of London into suburbs, uprooting families, children and communities, increasing travel costs and generally causing class segregation. Islington will be one of the 7 boroughs most effected by changes to the housing benefits system4.
The proposed housing benefit caps are £400 for 4 bedroom properties, £340 for 3, £290 for 2, and £250 for 1. These changes take no account of Islington having some of the highest private sector rents in London. As the number of bedrooms in a household increase, the ability for these caps to meet the rent prices in London decreases; as such, the larger a family the more likely it is to be adversely effected.
London will be the only place in the UK where the caps for 1-4 bedroom houses will all be felt. 15,530 households in London will be affected by the caps to 1 to 4 bed houses, with an additional 1,910 5 bedroom houses being affected. Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, have predicted that some households in London will fall short of their housing costs by £1,548 a month.
With around 30,000 individual, which is 14,00 households, in Islington already on housing waiting lists, Islingtonians rely heavily on the private sector. Meanwhile, since 2000, average rents in London have increased by 65%, while consumer price index (CPI – which is a measure of changes to the cost of living) has increased by only 17%. A third of Islington’s private tenants who are on housing benefits are effected by the cap, and could be at risk of eviction6.
The current proposals will lead to overcrowding, especially for large families, as the only way some of these families will be able to afford houses will be to find smaller ones. The one positive of the current housing benefit proposals is that it will cover the cost of an extra bedroom for people who need carers (as long as they can find cheap enough accommodation!).
Inevitable, an increase in evictions and homelessness will increase the need for temporary housing, which will have to be provided by the borough, thereby merely shifting the costs from one part of the public sector to another.
Ethnic minorities are already economically vulnerable, so measures and policies that will disproportionately harm poor people will, in turn, include a disproportionate amount of ethnic minorities. Considering the diversity of Islington, and London in general, this is another factor will cause London to suffer hugely. Increasing inequality, and increasing class segregation due to people being forced into cheaper areas could, in turn, lead to increasing segregation along racial and ethnic lines.
Twice the amount of people from ethnic minorities live in low-income households compared to white people. However there are huge variations between ethnic groups, with 30% of Indians and black Caribbeans living in low income households, 50% of black Africans, 60% of Pakistanis, and 70% of Bangladeshis7. With Pakistanis and Bangladeshis being the ethnic group most likely to identify as Muslim in the UK8, it may be that Muslims do particular badly out of these cuts.
Some ethnic groups also have larger families, and since large families in London are going to do the worst out of the housing benefit cap, there is a strong possibility that they will be forced into overcrowded conditions. Asian households have, on average, the largest amount of people. Bangladeshi households have an average of 4.5 people, Pakistani households have 4.1, and Indian households have 3.3 people9. (On the other hand, white Irish have an average of 2.1, while white British and black Caribbean both have an average of 2.3.) Similarly, Asians households are far more likely to hold more than one family with dependent children. (2 % of all households in Britain fall under this category compared to 17% of Bangladeshi households.)
Again, looking to the silver lining of our impending cyclonic storm cloud, compared to other ethnic groups Asian people are less likely to be a lone parent, and more likely to be married, which the Institute of Fiscal studies predicts will do better under the Universal Credit system.
The Fawcett Society is pursuing a legal challenge to the ConDems emergency budget, after estimating the £5.8 of the £8 billion cuts will fall on women and women’s jobs10. That is 72.5% of cuts. Similarly, of the 500,000 public sector workers who are predicted to lose their jobs, 350,000 are predicted to be women11. That is 70% of public sector job losses.
Women are far more likely to work in the public sector (65.5% of the workforce), local government (75%), and the civil service (86%). Local government is another area where mass job losses will be seen, with 1 in 10 jobs going. Furthermore, there are significantly more women in administrative roles within these sectors than men. This makes them easy targets for redundancy. So, not only are the sectors that women work in subject to a higher proportion of job losses, but the type of jobs they have within these sectors are more likely to go.
There are good reasons why women are more likely to go into the public sector than the private. And, along with other changes, such as those to child benefits, it may be hard for women to return to work when the economy recovers. Anna Bird, who works in the Fawcett Society campaigning for women’s right, explains, "Not only has the private sector been much slower to take advantage of flexible working but there is also a substantial pay differentia which may not make it worthwhile for women to take up any new jobs that are available. There is a big danger that we're turning the clock back on equality and many women will be unable to go out to work and will move back to the home where they will become financially dependent on others."
2. Pickett, K. The Big Society needs greater equality, Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/08/10/big-society-greater-equality/
3. Submission to the Islington Fairness Commission – proposed cuts to Islington Council’s Income Maximisation Team [PDF that can be found online]
8. Younge, G (2010). Who are we – and should it matter in the 21st century. Penguin.
9. Office of national statistics http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=458
10. Pickett, K. The Big Society needs greater equality, Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/08/10/big-society-greater-equality/
11. Wright, O. Jobs for the boys: Osborne's cuts are 'worst attack on equality for generations' The Independent. Friday, 22 October 2010.