The Policy Exchange’s report advocates that vacant low cost but valuable rented homes in places like central London should be sold off, but this ignores the long term value such accommodation brings to London.
The suggestion that the homes paid for by George Peabody's donation 150 years ago should be sold to provide more homes outside central London ignores the significance these homes have brought to thousands of people so far and to London life. The value that his donation has given is that these homes are still here doing what he wanted them to do – house the working poor of London. To sell them off would not be making the best of the incredibly generous donation, £500,000, equivalent to many millions today. As Ian Hislop described George Peabody’s donation and our estates it has left – “the gift that goes on giving”.
The homes we have in central London have provided immense value to London, not only to the individuals who live in the city but also to society, the economy and the cultural life of our capital and the country.
On a day when complaints have been raised about the high cost of train travel, not having people on low incomes close to work in central London is foolish. Many of the residents who live in our homes provide the essential low-wage employees for London's retail, hospitality and entertainment businesses. They also serve our transport system and some clean city offices. To further reduce the homes available to these people who earn their living and support what is essentially a low-wage economy in central London is not sensible.
A point that seems to be missed is the aspiration that living in central London gives our young people. Three years ago we published some research on our estates in central London comparing them with those further away from the centre of the City. The level of aspiration amongst young people was much higher in our central London estates and inevitably this will lead to them achieving better results as they grow up. At Peabody we have a number of examples of successful young people living in our central London estates. Many have gone on to make a huge contribution to our society, some in quiet ways, others more publicly. We have had a child grow up to be a Deputy Prime Minister, not the current one but George Brown, Harold Wilson’s famous deputy was born on our Stamford Street estate in Southwark, before moving to Blackfriars, remaining there until he left school. Similarly Sir Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, was brought up on a Peabody estate in central London and he still speaks fondly of the life that this gave to him and his family.
This diversity is part of the richness of our city and its social diversity which was very evident and celebrated during the Olympic Games. But after the Olympics, and even before the Paralympics begin, this seems to have been forgotten. People are still sleeping rough on our streets and now there are calls to limit the chances of poor working people living in central London so they have to live goodness knows where. Let's not create the peripheral ghettos so evident in places like Paris, other European and American cities.
All this talk by the Policy Exchange runs the risk of creating a smoke screen which hides the real issues. The solution to the shortage of low cost homes is not for us to sell off our homes. My own view is that we need to restore the levels of public investment to build more homes and to make mortgage finance more easily available to create growth and stimulate the market.
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