Housing emergency drives 'blue light' workers out of London

There have been a huge number of articles written in the last fortnight about the future of Britain, with many focused on the potential effects on London’s economy of the country leaving the EU.

What must not be lost in these debates, though, is the focus on the structural problems that the city faced before the referendum. One of the most fundamental in recent years has been the fact that London’s housing crisis has forced many professionals out of the city.

Last week, amid the post-Brexit fall-out, the London Chamber for Commerce and Industry published their contribution to this work, with a new report on housing affordability for emergency service workers in London.

Its main, worrying finding is that the majority (54%) of London’s ‘blue light’ emergency workers now live outside of London, and this must raise questions over the city’s ability to respond to a major emergency, where a significant number of staff may be needed at short notice.

Housing affordability is identified as a major driver of workers living outside the capital, combined with austerity cuts stopping pay from keeping up with increases in the cost of living. Both homeownership and private rents are not affordable, particularly for those at the start of their careers.

Longer commuting times put strain on these workers and affect staff retention, but will also seriously jeopardise the proper functioning of our emergency services, where punctuality is so important, and delays mean overtired and stressed colleagues taking on overtime work.

So what can be done to support those emergency service workers who are either struggling in London’s private rented sector, or have left because of it?

One relatively easy step that the report recommends is the establishment of a Rental Deposit Loan scheme for London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service staff, providing interest free loans so workers can afford deposits on new properties.

These kinds of schemes are important in supporting people moving into new jobs, and Generation Rent has supported their establishment by other large employers.

However, they do not solve the ongoing problems of affordability and security that emergency service workers will continue to face in the private rented sector. The report addresses this with a number of recommendations essentially calling for a renewed drive for keyworker housing for these professions, some perhaps directly by the Mayor of London, and included in the London Plan.

This is absolutely needed, as was identified by the last London Assembly, and should be a priority for new developments being built on NHS land in London. However, there will continue to be a large number of professionals left in the private rented sector.

The sector is not currently affordable for them, nor will it be in the near future for millions of low-paid workers across the capital, working in retail, cleaning, and construction, and the 700,000 in the workforce who are still paid below the living wage.

With this in mind, it is bizarre that rent controls in London remain outside the larger policy debate and greater analysis needs to be undertaken that looks at all the options in this area.

The future of the city depends on it. Without greater focus on solutions to the lack of affordability in the PRS, increasing numbers of London workers will live outside the city – and eventually abandon it forever.

If you’re struggling with your rent in London, or if you want to think about how housing is affecting your profession, please get in touch. Generation Rent is working on how to organise different groups of renters in London and would love to hear from you.

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