– Queen Mary College of London

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Published on:

June 1, 2022

Photo credit: istock.com/nickspalding

A new report examines how neighborhoods in east and south-east London have changed since the millennium and what these parts of the capital could look like by 2040. Poplar and Thames – to understand how people’s lives have changed since the year 2000 and what they hope to see in the coming decades.

The researchers found that despite their geographic proximity, these areas are vastly different in their social characteristics and recent economic histories. Stratford has changed significantly since hosting the 2012 Olympics, with 30 years of infrastructure developed in seven years, while Poplar in the Docklands has seen slower progress for decades and Thamesmead’s transformation is largely yet to come.

The study shows positive changes in east and south-east London over the last few decades: new housing developments, less deprivation (according to IMD results) and better educational outcomes, with household income having less of an impact on school performance today than it used to. But the researchers caution that the success is “patchy” and “comes at a price” for local communities.

Falling deprivation rates seem to be caused by the influx of wealthier households rather than improving the living conditions of long-term residents. While renewal has brought benefits such as new businesses, such commercial success can mean people are priced out where they grew up. Redevelopment efforts that focus on central London’s economy can also leave local residents struggling with poor community facilities and transport links.

Given the wide disparities in economic and social outcomes in nearby areas, researchers have criticized the government’s geographic approach to “leveling”. The report highlights “significant leveling challenges” in London, with remaining inequality exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as wealthy pockets sit alongside areas of acute social deprivation and some of the lowest life expectancies in Europe.

The report’s authors warn: “Londoners’ life chances vary enormously depending on where they live, where they work and what type of housing is available to them. Rather than leveling the rest of the UK, the government’s current approach could simply level London and exacerbate inequalities within the capital.

“The Olympic legacy at Stratford demonstrates the limitations of leveling-up programs that focus solely on physical infrastructure. At the same time, supporting communities in Poplar need not come at the expense of supporting communities in Peterborough. Economic transformation is not a zero-sum game.”

In light of the new report, the researchers urge local policymakers to urgently prioritize three key issues: improving public services (e.g. affordable childcare and sports facilities), upskilling local communities (e.g. better provision of education after the age of 16 and professional skills development) and investment in public transport infrastructure (particularly in places like Thamesmead where residents find it difficult to travel to find work elsewhere in the city).

dr Patrick Diamond, Queen Mary’s Associate Professor of Public Policy, commented: “This report underscores the sheer diversity of East London; Some of the most affluent places in Europe like Canary Wharf nestle in areas that have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the UK. This reinforces the need for sustained public investment to close the gap between rich and poor and ensure all communities in East London can participate in the growing prosperity and opportunities of the future.”

Claire Harding, Research Director at the Center for London, added: “People often talk about London as if it’s just a place, but this report shows the differences between parts of east and south-east London – and the different types of support they need to bring them to the best possible places to live, work and study. It’s really important that the government takes these differences into account when making plans for the future of our city.”

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