Will Convergence Survive Gentrification

Roger Taylor - Director of the Growth Boroughs Unit

Growth Boroughs have the highest levels of the worst deprivation in London; its nothing to be proud of, just an inescapable fact that our residents are poorer, less healthy, more likely to be out of work than people in the rest of London.

Convergence, our cornerstone, is about changing that by ensuring that over the next 20 years, we and our local, regional and national partners make sure that our residents conditions improve to the point where they can at last enjoy the same life chances as other Londoners.

There's a problem; we measure the deprivation and our Convergence targets as proportions of the total population so if the population increases and healthier better educated migrants locate in our Boroughs often pejoratively described as Gentrification, then proportionately the scale of deprivation may diminish.

What this means is that, theoretically we could achieve or get close to our Convergence goal without doing anything to improve the lives of our residents and rely on inward migration to make it seem that the job's been done and the problem of a centuries old shameful sore on London solved.

But the problem hasn’t been solved. All that will have happened is that the acute levels of deprivation which the Growth Boroughs are determinedly challenging have been diluted by inward migration of better skilled, better off people and by the outward migration (aided and abetted by housing benefit and welfare changes), to cheaper housing of some, but by no means all of the population which in 2012 hoped for some benefit from the Games.

So what’s to be done? Well Convergence was never about manipulating the demographic statistics of the Growth Boroughs. It was always about enabling our communities to benefit from the forecast massive growth of the local economy through improved education, health, skills and employment.

We all know that the types of gentrification and change we are considering help to secure improved education and health facilities, better public realm, greater employment opportunities and so on.

But the changes the Growth Boroughs face, call for a robust reminder to beware the siren voices who will argue that we can achieve Convergence by doing nothing and letting the population change.

For the 1.5m people now living in the 6 Growth Boroughs the need to achieve fairness in terms of education, health, employment and decent affordable and social housing within the context of massive economic opportunity remains the challenge that we are determined to tackle.

This is why we are committed to maximising economic growth as we believe that the best route out of deprivation and poverty is through improving the resilience of our communities and strengthening their pathways into work.

If we are to achieve that then we need to remain the priority for London as the Mayor has already indicated; we need to find ways of accelerating infrastructure investment in transport, housing and public services through new partnerships with the Mayor and new funding arrangements for London’s sub-regions.

With local employers and investors we need to take back control of the Skills agenda and the funding that goes with it. We need to build new approaches to Job brokerage modelled on our hugely successful work with ODA, LOCOG and LLDC that will repair the gaps left by the work programme which is failing so many of our people. We need to continue to forge close relations with our new health partners.

We need to keep on with our 20 year goal to achieve Convergence; London’s greatest challenge is to bring fairness to our acutely disadvantaged communities.