'Don't level London down as we go into 2022'

Karen Buck MP, Westminster North 

Karen Buck MP, Westminster North - Credit: Polly Hancock

It is not, sadly, turning out to be the holiday season we had hoped for.

Whilst we can hope that the spike in Covid infections resulting from the Omicron variant is short lived, it is too early to be sure of either that, its severity, or the impact of widespread infection on essential services.

What we do know is that the central London economy, with its heavy concentration of culture and arts, hospitality and retail, has taken another massive hit.

Even before this latest shock, London was already hurting, with (unusually) the highest unemployment rate in the country, precisely because we have such a high concentration of the businesses and activities most damaged by the pandemic.

We’ve heard a lot about the government’s "levelling up" agenda this year, aimed at supporting poorer regions of the country, and I completely agree about the need for such investment.

Yet this won’t be achieved by "levelling London down", both because London supports the national economy and because, alongside great wealth, we now have higher unemployment, some of the most intense concentrations of child poverty, homelessness and exceptional pressure on services.

It is, for example, unacceptable that we should still be fighting for a fair funding deal for London’s transport system two years on, and with passenger numbers (and therefore fare income) plunging again with the latest Covid surge.

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Other capital cities aren’t treated in this way by government, and London shouldn’t be, either.

There are too many people whose hard work, inspirational creativity, devoted public service or voluntary contributions have helped us through the year to single some out. But so many people rose to the challenge magnificently and will again.

Whether as a result of Covid or the cost of living crisis (intensified by the autumn’s removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift) which is pushing people into real hardship, we are in the grips of a hard winter for many.

But we are resilient and resourceful and spring will come and will delight us again. In the meantime, let us help who we can, where we can, cherish our loved ones and enjoy what we can of the coming days.

Karen Buck (Lab) is MP for Westminster North.

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