In April  I launched the Cost of Living Hub to help Londoners struggling with the spiralling cost of living to access advice and support. The hub helps Londoners find advice near them and signposts information about benefits, energy debt, mental health and crisis support. It was developed and built inhouse by Greater London Authority (GLA) officers at no additional cost. Between £100,000 and £150,000 has been allocated for work to improve the usability and accessibility of the hub and to raise awareness of the hub within communities most affected by the cost of living crisis. As part of this work, officers carried out user testing to better understand how Londoners in financial hardship navigate and interact with the hub. Improvements are being made to its design and content based on the recommendations from the user testing in time for the hub’s relaunch in September . Over 40 London‑based community organisations, networks and anti‑poverty charities have also given their feedback.
Officers have commissioned a benefits calculator that will feature on the hub so that Londoners can check their entitlement to welfare support without having to leave the site. The team is also working with partners to develop translations of the hub’s content into ten languages for Londoners with limited English, including an easy read version. The hub and the support it offers will be promoted to Londoners through an online and in‑person campaign funded through existing resource. This will include leaflets to share key messages with communities who are less likely to access the content online. To increase our reach, we have launched an open call for grant funding for the development of new or existing digital tools that will be hosted by third‑party sites and signposted to from the hub. Officers are monitoring the success of the Cost of Living Hub by tracking the number of unique page views the hub receives, and will report on progress quarterly.
The hub is a useful tool for Londoners who might be struggling, but the levers to tackle the cost of living all sit with central Government. As a start, Londoners desperately need the Government to freeze private rents for the next two years, abolish the benefit cap, two‑child limit and ‘no recourse to public funds’ conditions, and expand eligibility for free school meals to all primary‑aged school children.
Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. In June  the London Assembly passed a Cost of Living Emergency motion to highlight the needed support for our most vulnerable Londoners and to make sure it is most effective. Now, when I spoke to The Trussell Trust, which I know is one of the groups that you have been consulting this week, they welcomed the Cost of Living Hub but they did urge that we must go further to end the postcode lottery in the provision of local support across London. You have also mentioned that you are going to be doing some reviewing. Will that particular area be reviewed to make sure that you are helping the most vulnerable, and are unique page views enough to evaluate the success of Cost of Living Hub?
Let me be frank: a Cost of Living Hub is not going to alleviate the struggles families are facing across our city. I mentioned in my answer some of the changes required from central Government. The postcode lottery is partly caused by some councils, frankly speaking, being better than others, and by some councils having more deprived communities and bigger challenges. Also, some of the community services available in addition to services from the council are better in some parts of London than others, for a variety of historical reasons.
I accept that simply checking the numbers of people going to a page will not be enough for us to assess the success or otherwise. There are a number of other things we are doing, as I said in my answer. I am more than happy to write to the Member in relation to some of the additional things we are doing, and I am always keen to hear from Members with their own experiences from the communities they speak to about some of the things we can be doing, with the limited resources we have, to help the families I know she cares about.
I look forward to that written answer. Around 270,000 Londoners are considered to be digitally excluded and are unable to access your Cost of Living Hub, and they are the people that we really need to help. What additional work are you doing to reach out to those digitally excluded Londoners who need advice and support during this cost-of-living emergency?
I am sure the Member is well aware is the work of the London Recovery Board. One of the things that we knew was the case during the pandemic was digital inequality in relation to children who could not access classroom lessons because they were relying on Mum or Dad’s mobile as there were no laptops at home, lack of connectivity in some parts of London in relation to Wi‑Fi connection and so forth, and also a lack of skills their parents or carers had in relation to the inability to help their children.
The three areas of focus in relation to the work of the London Recovery Board across London are, first, addressing the issue of skills shortages so parents and carers have the skills to work with their children and themselves, particularly older people accessing skills. The second is helping people have the right kit, including free laptops, tablets and so forth for some members of our communities. The third is improving connectivity across our city. You will be aware that in some parts of London the digital connection is really awful; in other parts it is great. All three things are being addressed by the work of the Recovery Board. It is one of the nine missions that we have.
Energy and food prices, though, are going to continue to rise, causing more stress and anxiety to many Londoners. That includes innocent leaseholders trapped in buildings blighted by fire safety defects. They are facing crippling bills and it is only going to get worse. Leaseholders are, and have been for a while now, crying out for a support hub to help them, especially now because of this emergency. Will you reconsider establishing the fully costed Building Support Hub that we proposed to provide leaseholders with the necessary support that they desperately need right now?
I do not accept that it was a fully costed leaseholders’ hub. There is a hub for leaseholders provided by the Government. It cost £1.2 million. That is fully costed because they spent that and they spend a similar amount every year. The, in inverted commas, ‘fully costed’ hub put forward by the Member was £120,000, clearly not commensurate with the challenge leaseholders face in London or the cost of a hub for leaseholders. Many of the issues facing leaseholders ‑ and I meet them regularly ‑ cannot be met by a hub. They are in relation to some of the changes that need to be made. I am concerned that [the Rt Hon] Michael Gove [MP, former Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities] has resigned ‑‑
I am concerned that Michael Gove, who was doing a really good job helping leaseholders, is no longer in his job. The key thing is to make sure that whoever succeeds him once there is a new Prime Minister, understands the challenges facing leaseholders, which the Government’s lease hub, which cost £1.2 million, is not addressing because they need more than a hub.