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/)
For two countries which share the same language, England and America can sometimes seem like a world apart (well, they are an ocean apart, I guess). I noticed this most acutely on my recent trip to New York with two friends from London. Whilst in London, shop assistants acknowledge you briefly if you’re lucky, or watch you through narrowed eyes suspecting you of shoplifting if you’re not so lucky.
In New York, it was a completely different story. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by friendly staff asking us about our trip, and recommending things for us to do. The friendliness extends to people on the streets — someone found me the name of a restaurant in Williamsburg and then actually called up for me, and a couple stopped to Google the nearest subway station for us when we got slightly lost. Of course, not everyone is unfriendly in London, but New York seems so much warmer in terms of customer service at least.
This being said, the tipping culture stateside seems crazy to me — in London I wouldn’t hesitate to leave a cafe or restaurant without tipping if the waiter had been especially rude. In New York, one waiter went out of his way to follow us as we left the cafe, muttering “You’re unbelievable” under his breath. It’s not like we hadn’t left any tip at all — it wasn’t 18 percent, but we’d only had a small snack and he had been unfriendly and brusque throughout.
The most fascinating difference between England and America for me as a British visitor lies with the language (ironic, given we’re meant to be speaking the same one). From foods (“Aubergine? Wait, that’s eggplant right?”) to clothes (“Trousers? Do you mean pants?”), there are different words, different pronunciations and different expressions. We say “lift,” you say “elevator,” we say “get in line,” you say “get online.” The weirdest of these for me is “restroom” — why restroom? You don’t exactly go there to rest… “toilet” seems like a much more logical word.
New York and London are two of the world’s most visited cities, and it’s not difficult to see why. The fact off the matter is, both England and America are great countries, and it is their individualities which make both so intriguing to visit/live in.
Look at any list of The Best Books Ever Written (subjective I know, but still), and you’ll see that a large number of them were written by foreign authors in foreign languages. English may be the most widely spoken language in the world, but I find it sad that according to some statistics, only 3 percent of all books published in English are translations. Foreign literature gives us an insight into the national psyche of other countries, allows us to better understand the history and gives us a first-hand account of life from a foreigner’s perspective.
Sure, we can read newspaper articles and blogs to find out how other people in other countries live, but there’s nothing quite like reading a French, or Dutch or Japanese novel in translation to get a sense of what it’s like coming from and living there. Reading Murakami’s massively successful Norwegian Wood gave me a much deeper insight into Japanese life than anything else could — and similarly, Amélie Nothomb’s Fear and Trembling offers a view into Japanese office hierarchy from a Belgian’s perspective, obviously not something you’d easily come across otherwise. People tend not to go for novels in translation when choosing something to read in a bookshop or library because of the misconception that it will be “more difficult” to read, or more “challenging” than an ordinary English novel, but this just isn’t true (unless you pick War and Peace). The main benefit of reading foreign literature is, of course, that you look really smart reading on public transport…
Foreign books and movies can be a great way of encouraging young people — especially teenagers — to take up a foreign language. In England, where I live, we are currently experiencing a language crisis: the number of people choosing to study them at university is decreasing every year. This is rather sad — having graduates who can speak one or more languages is an asset to any company, and there are several reasons for the lack of interest. Firstly, the standard of teaching in secondary schools is often not that great. Secondly, and more importantly, the syllabus for 14 to 18 year-olds is honestly rather boring. Each examination board is different, but with some, the topics studied rarely stray from the environment, family and the world of work. This is especially true at GCSE level — the public exams we take at the age of 16. If the course were more interesting — incorporating popular culture, music, film and books — way more students would choose to study languages. Spending time with other European teenagers from Switzerland, Belgium and Spain, it’s actually embarrassing that on the whole, most of them can speak three or four languages. To solve this crisis in England at least, one thing is clear: we should draw more attention to foreign language film and literature, as there is so much for us to learn from them.
My latest travel-related obsession is the website http://www.12hrs.net, which basically offers you a selection of itineraries for when you’ve got 12 hours to spend in a European city (they do/ are starting to do cities outside of Europe too, but this is the EUROphiles). Not only are you saving money by not buying a travel guide (although if you are going to do that, check out this post), but the suggestions are unusual and generally things only a local would know about. In the creators’ own words:
We love to travel. We also love design, and music, and fashion. And we were missing a website full of travel tips for people like us. Somewhere between the backpackers and the luxury hotels. With tips that aren’t about money, but about great discoveries from all around the world. So we built 12hrs. To keep it simple, we organized them in itineraries. 12 hours per trip. Sweet and short. With the best to see, do, eat, dance we could fit in one short stay.
Living in London, it was encouraging to see that many of the suggestions (including Dover St Market and Borough Market) are places that I’d take friends who are visiting me to – hopefully this means that I’d like the places suggested in other cities… The site’s tagline is what really speaks to me – the suggestions are “collected by us, for you, from locals, friends, and fellow travellers”. The touristic places are always easy to find, especially in big European cities used to visitors who don’t speak their language, so sites like this are so useful for finding the really special places, the places that might just make your trip. My number one place to visit this year is Copenhagen… It looks amazing, judging by the photo below.
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
Even though I live in London, England, and therefore do not have much contact with America, I like to read the New York Times. As travelling the world would be the first thing I’d do if I won the lottery, I LOVE the NYT book “36 Hours In…” which offers itineraries for weekend stays in various places. Naturally, the most interesting one for me is “36 Hours In Europe”, which was published in 2012.
Reading its publisher Taschen’s description of the book makes me want it even more:
Culture, history, natural beauty, fine cuisine, artistic masterpieces, cutting-edge architecture and style—Europe overflows with so many riches that a lifetime seems too short to appreciate them. But with the right guidance, you can go far in a single weekend. Stylishly written and carefully researched, this updated and expanded collection of the popular New York Times 36 Hours feature offers you 125 well-crafted itineraries for quick but memorable European trips, accompanied by hundreds of color photographs to fire your imagination. Explore the expected: the Renaissance in Florence, surfing in Biarritz, flamenco in Seville. And discover the unexpected: Sicilian mummies dressed in their Sunday best, a dry-land toboggan ride on Madeira, a hotel in Tallinn with a KGB spies’ nest on the penthouse floor. World capitals, ancient nations that once ruled wide domains, tiny countries with big personalities—it’s all Europe, and all fun to read about (whether you actually go or not) in this handsomely designed and illustrated book.
All I need now is lots and lots of money, and I’m off. (The book has also inspired me to invent my own 36 Hours In London… for teenagers)
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.