Farewell Central London, we’ll take the kids and go now
There have been so many articles in the papers this week about the London housing market, Zoe Williams in the Guardian wrote about how these changes will affect London neighbourhoods, Ian Jack wrote on gentrification, and The New York Times wrote about the lacking tax implications for London property owners, making the housing market so alluring. There were many more articles about the nonsensical Osbornian “help to buy” scheme and all that it does not accomplish. It all got me so riled up I decided it’s time to finally write my good bye letter to Central London.
My husband and I lived in Westminster for ten years; our two children were born there and we loved, loved, loved every year we lived there. Our family was (and still is) active in two neighbourhood churches. Over the years I volunteered at numerous playgroups, my friends and I helped campaign to retain funding for my local state nursery, my neighbours called a meeting that I chaired to learn more about a proposed foot bridge into our community square. I feel my family made a positive contribution to our community, we shopped at local businesses and looked out for our neighbours and maintained strong relationships with our ward councillors. I even set up a web site where I could show off how amazingly family-friendly London, but Westminster in particular, is to live.
But shortly after my son was born in 2009, tax payers were told of the paradigm shift needed to keep the earth rotating: the government would have to shrink and we would have to go with fewer services. I noticed the staff reductions at my kids schools, class sizes were rising. Many of the lovely museum activities I enjoyed with my eldest child just weren’t there for my second. These were trifling concerns compared to my friends and neighbours facing serious challenges because of draconian changes to their housing benefits (we might ask Westminster how many people ended up housed, at tremendous expense, in B and B’s over the inability to pay the £14 a week for the bedroom tax).
In the midst of all this economic turmoil, our rent started to rise. In 2007 we were paying £375 a week for a two bedroom flat – a huge portion of our annual income, but in return we had a short, inexpensive commute, great primary schools and world-class city services. After 2008, our wages stagnated, rents begen to climb to the current rate of £500 minimum a week for a two bedroom and all the while services are threatened.
There was talk of closing Chelsea and Westminster’s A and E (instead it’s Charing Cross Hospital that will get the axe); despite our campaigning, Boris Johnston is closing our fire station. Worse of all, the council is giving our schools over to the nepotistic, managerial brain-trust of Future Academies. And those are “our” schools no matter how much the land underneath can be sold to developers for.
When we lost our lease on our Westminster flat last year, we took a good, hard look at Central London and read between the lines: no families wanted. The central councils don’t want us, they want the international elite who privately educate their kids, use private healthcare, and have no use for city services outside of rubbish collecting and police. They don’t want concerned mothers nagging them about the need for fire stations and A and E’s, they don’t want to answer why the 27 year old head of a primary school walked off the job or do they want neighbours to organise themselves and protest footbridges into public squares.
In my ten years as a renter in the UK, I never once paid rent to a resident of the UK – all of that money went overseas. As far as I understand, the owner of a £2,000,000 flat might pay £120 a month in council tax and a bit of ground rent each year. No wonder the city can’t afford any services.
Does the city have any desire to deter wealthy people parking their Euros in empty London flats, buying them and leaving them empty in order to retain active citizens who participate in and support their communities?
What are your thoughts?