London is undeniably one of the richest and coolest cities in the world (I’m only slightly biased), receiving on average 15 million visitors a year. However, despite the fact that apartments can sell for £27m (as was recently the case in Knightsbrige, a chic area of London), the gritty truth is that London has the highest rate of child poverty in England. With 37% of the capital’s children living under the poverty line, there are more poor children in London than in Wales and Scotland combined. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ latest report predicts that the number of children living in poverty in England in 2015 will reach 2.9 million, up from 2.3 million this year. Despite these horrifying and utterly shameful statistics, the current coalition government is continuing with its proposed benefit caps, which will undoubtedly have a negative effect of the problem.
So, what are the consequences of child poverty, and what exactly does living in poverty in London actually mean? Whilst ‘poverty’ can be defined in many different ways, in London, families living in poverty typically have around £10 per family member per day to buy everything they need – this includes food, heating and transport costs. To put this is perspective, the average household in London would have £44 per member per day to spend. This in itself is 20% higher than the average household in the rest of the UK, which displays the massive divide between rich and poor – and even ‘middling’ and poor – which currently exists in England’s capital city. There are both long term and short-term consequences for children who live and grow up in poverty. A survey conducted amongst teachers in five of London’s poorest boroughs last year showed that almost all (95%) had talked to students who were coming to school hungry after not having had breakfast, and 60% reported buying those students food with their own money. This is frankly humiliating: the Mayor of London is spending time and energy on developments like the cable car across east London and the River Thames, solely for the enjoyment of wealthy tourists, whilst those very cable cars are passing over schools full of students whose families cannot afford to give them breakfast.
Turning up to school hungry is not just an unfortunate inconvenience: numerous studies have concluded that concentration and general academic performance are improved when students are able to focus properly in class. Down the line, this affects exam results and future prospects. If we can solve this basic problem, there will be major benefits for our country as a whole. The question is, in a time of such financial instability in England and with government economic resources stretched to their limits, how can we help bring an end to child poverty?
As a starting point, it is vital that we do not underestimate the power that large private companies such as banks can have in supporting projects such as breakfast clubs in underprivileged schools. Many schemes already exist, and they have proved very successful. One investment bank has paired up with the high street bakery chain ‘Greggs’ to provide breakfast for the students at a school in one of London’s most deprived areas who would normally be arriving at school not having eaten since the night before. This seemingly small-scale program can reap massive benefits for everybody involved, and also takes the strain off local borough resources, which are already scarce. Clearly, breakfast schemes alone will not succeed in ending child poverty in London for good, but they are definitely a positive step in the right direction. The links between private companies and these deprived schools could be part of the answer, and the private companies also gain from seeing direct results of their financial support, something they
would not normally get from their charity involvement.
However, these private businesses can never fulfil the role that the national government has: a responsibility to ensure that there is no more poverty in London. The new proposed benefit reforms which involve cutting the amount of money that families in need receive could lead to the already shocking child poverty statistics worsening, something that we absolutely cannot let happen – it is expected that 27,400 London households will be affected by the new caps. Government cuts are no simple matter, and there are always people who will not be satisfied, but it is undeniable that in this day and age, children living in poverty should take absolute priority – nothing at all can be more important. It is unacceptable that in 2014, poverty is a real problem for so many families living in England, and this is something that the government needs to keep in mind when making decisions which affect such large numbers of people in their capital.
(photo from http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2012/02/07/london-inequality-what-would-charles-dickens-think/)
One of my favourite cheap things to do in London when friends are visiting is to do ‘Tate to Tate‘, as I have recently named it. This involves (obviously) visiting both Tates – Britain and Modern – in the space of an afternoon. It’s made very easy: you just take the river boat which goes direct from Tate Modern to Tate Britain (or the other way round) for a small fee. Even though it’s not completely free, it’s worth remembering that unlike in most other European countries, you don’t pay to get into either museum. There are exhibitions which you need to buy tickets for, but if it’s not something you really want to see, it’s not always worth paying for, & you can spend a perfectly busy afternoon in the free parts…
Prices from http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-boat
- Adults – £6.50 single, £12 return
- Tate Members – £4.90
- Child under 16 with Travelcard – £2.15
- Travelcard holder or London Student Card Single £4.30
- Children under 5 travel for free
Okay, not everybody loooves the Saatchi Gallery, because most of its contents don’t really count as ‘art’. But that’s the problem: who decides what art is? If you prefer more traditional paintings etc, go to the Wallace Collection.
The Saatchi Gallery does, in fact, have a lot going for it. Firstly, it’s in Duke of York Square which is nice to walk around, and there’s the King’s Road so it’s not like you have to make a specific journey. Secondly, it’s FREE so you literally walk in while you’re taking a break from shopping/ eating and if you hate everything in there, it doesn’t matter. Also, a lot of the stuff they have in there is often really cool: a black room filled with lasers/ a giant plastic ball filled with air which you can climb into/ a room filled with oil but the reflection of the ceiling is so misleading you think you’re looking into an empty space. So whilst it isn’t traditional art in the form of renaissance paintings, it is an enjoyable way to spend an hour if you’re sheltering from the rain or happen to be passing by. Plus, the gift shop is really cool.
The Tate Britain is one of my favourite places to visit in London, mainly because it is mostly free, but partly because the building is so beautiful. There are, of course, paying exhibitions on all the time, but it’s not always worth it. The Gary Hume and Patrick Caulfield exhibitions are on at the moment, and while they’re great to see if you have a pass which lets you in without paying (as I do) I wouldn’t recommend paying £14.50 to go. Probably the best thing to visit at Tate Britain is the “BP Walk through British Art” – and this is what the gallery has to say about it:
The BP Walk through British Art offers a circuit of Tate Britain’s unparalleled collection from its beginnings to its end. This ‘walk through time’ has been arranged to ensure that the collection’s full historical range, from 1545 to the present, is always on show. There are no designated themes or movements; instead, you can see a range of art made at any one moment in an open conversational manner.
Basically, it’s a collection of British art from the past 500 years, laid out in a way which means you’re walking through time. It’s so interesting to see art curated like this – it’s so easy to see how the styles evolved over the centuries, and how everything from painting techniques to subject matter has changed. As well as paintings, there are also sculptures on display, by leading artists like Henry Moore. The great thing about the Walk Through British Art is that it’s so massive, you don’t have to spend much time on each painting. And because you haven’t paid to get in, you don’t feed bad zooming through until you see something which really catches your interest…
Kate and William‘s baby, due (apparently) on July 13, will be third-in-line to throne behind Prince Charles and Prince William – even if she’s a girl… Previously, according to the 300 year old law, a boy royal baby would inherit the throne even if he had an older sister. The Royal Family now seems to be catching up with gender discrimination, and the laws of succession have changed. The baby’s gender is, as yet, unknown so we’ll soon find out…
These things are amaazing. I must admit, I love everything about them: their size, their layout, their colours… The Wallpaper* City Guides just look so nice stacked up on your bookshelf. According to the company who publishes them (but verified by me), the City Guides “provide the savvy traveller with a need-to-know checklist of the best a location has to offer, whether you are staying for five days or 48 hours”. As I am, naturally, a savvy traveller, these books are my new obsession. The best thing has actually been buying the London edition – I live here, and it gives really cool and unusual suggestions of where to eat/shop/go. As only one small section is about hotels, it’s definitely worth spending £6.95 to buy one for your hometown…
Perhaps one of the most underrated public space in London, the British Library is where many freelancers and students spend their days huddled over their laptops. The Library also holds copy of everything ever published in the UK and Ireland, and the Reading Rooms are used by researchers the whole time. They have a massive collection of documents, from manuscripts, maps and newspapers to prints, drawings and music scores – and 3 million new items are added every year… Apart from these Reading Rooms (which are only open to over-18s who are members), the main bit of the library is where you can sit and revise (and access the free WiFi). Probably the only bad thing about the whole place is the café – it’s really good food, but it’s SO EXPENSIVE. So yeah, bring your own food.