Disadvantaged Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:31 am on 8th February 2002.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 10:31 am, 8th February 2002

May I declare a non-pecuniary interest as a member of the board of the New Life for Paddington urban regeneration scheme?

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Daisley on his maiden speech. It has been some time in coming because he has been bravely battling against illness, but his speech showed the characteristic passion for his community that he has displayed for many years as a councillor and as leader of Brent council. His constituents will be extremely well served by him here.

My hon. Friend is my neighbour in parliamentary terms. I look out of my front window on to the South Kilburn estate. The fact that his constituency qualifies for a parliamentary additional cost allowance and mine does not is a scab that has never healed. To make matters worse, phone numbers in his constituency are prefixed by 0207, which, as every Londoner knows, is the true mark of metropolitan prestige. However, I will not hold that against my hon. Friend and I look forward to working with him as a neighbour and colleague on local issues as well as to seeing the contribution that he will make in Parliament.

I warmly welcome the Government's strategic approach to regeneration and the fact that it is linked, as it must be, to a strategy tackling social exclusion and poverty. The establishment and work of the social exclusion unit and the neighbourhood renewal strategies introduced an analysis into those serious social problems that had been lacking and allowed the development of an approach that considers multiple indicators as a way of tackling them. That is the only way to deal with them; social exclusion and the decline of some of our urban areas are rooted in multidimensional problems, and no single solution can turn them around.

I know from local experience that the Government have, over recent years, invested significantly and imaginatively in policies that will help us to tackle those problems. My constituency now benefits from four sure start programmes, which I regard as the single best and most imaginative regeneration tool, targeted at parents with very young children. Sadly, I do not have a new deal for communities programme, and I would love to have a few of those. However, we have the £13.5 million single regeneration budget for Paddington—as I said, I am a member of the board for the scheme—and an education action zone. We benefit in both Kensington and Westminster from neighbourhood renewal funding and from the neighbourhood nurseries initiative. So serious money has been invested, targeted particularly at wards and small areas with severe deprivation. The approach and the money are very welcome.

I want to talk particularly about the case for London. There is no doubt in my mind, from listening to colleagues and reading about the problems in the north, the midlands and in areas of low housing demand, that a catastrophe is taking place. I support those areas and wish them well in dealing with those problems. However, their problems are entirely different from those that we face in the capital, which require a different solution and at least proportionate support. We have had that in some cases, but not in every area.

We have already touched on the particular problems of communities with high levels of deprivation that exist cheek by jowl with areas of extreme wealth. My constituency probably exemplifies that more than anywhere else in the country. The Church Street ward, which is one of the most deprived in the country according to the index of multiple deprivation, is within 100 yd of St. John's Wood, which includes some of the most valuable real estate in the country. That not only enhances the residents' sense of inequality, but causes us a problem in applying for resources.

One of London's difficulties is what I have described in previous debates as the tyranny of the average. If a local authority area includes prosperous areas, prosperous wards and high value housing alongside areas of acute deprivation, the funding formulas will be worked out on the basis of an average. As a consequence, we are not able to secure the resources that I believe are necessary to deal with our problems. This is particularly the case, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows well from the representations that we have made, in respect of the index of multiple deprivation and the various sources of funding that flow from it. London Members will continue to lobby on that issue to see whether further refinements can be made to the index to recognise the reality of London's problems. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell us when we can expect a crime domain to be introduced into the index, because that is an aspect of urban deprivation that needs to be recognised.

I want to put on record again the characteristics of London that deserve our attention. We have some of the highest indicators of poverty and deprivation in the country. In inner London, more than half of all children live in households on low income compared with one third for England as a whole. We have the highest proportion of children in workless households of any region in England. We have double the national average of lone-parent families, which we know to be a key indicator of poverty. We have an acute housing shortage; it has been rehearsed many times, so I will not talk about it other than to say that I believe it to be one of the most serious barriers to the city's continuing economic success and to overcoming the problems of urban deprivation.

Challenges as well as opportunities arise from the capital's cultural diversity. More than half the United Kingdom's ethnic minority and black populations live in London. Unfortunately, many of those communities experience levels of unemployment and poverty that are up to three times higher those of the white population. I believe that a Cabinet Office report, reported in the newspapers last summer, warned that unless further and faster action is taken, the gap in income and opportunities between the black and ethnic minority populations and the white population is set to widen over the next 20 years. That is a real challenge.