Fears Camden’s “squeezed middle” will become the “new poor”

Naomi Eisenstadt

Naomi Eisenstadt - Credit: Archant

Families in Camden need an income of £70,000 “just to get by”, according to a new Town Hall study.

The figure, which is based on a family of four renting in the private sector, includes basic payments such as food, bills, fuel and childcare, but rules out luxuries such as holidays, savings and private schooling.

The research has prompted fears the many “squeezed” low and middle-income families in the borough will be trapped paying huge rents with little hope of saving towards a deposit on a home. The average house price in Camden is now £625,249 – 19 times the borough’s median annual household income.

Politicians and community leaders described the figure as “astonishing” and predicted the gap between rich and poor could increase to Victorian-era proportions.

The figures were published this week by Camden Council as part of its Equality Taskforce report. Chaired by Oxford University academic Naomi Eisenstadt, the taskforce was set up last July to examine the social inequalities in Camden in light of the recession and public sector cuts.

Leader of Camden Council Sarah Hayward said: “A family of four needs £70,000 just to get by – not to have a lavish lifestyle, just to live, which is astonishing.

“It puts into perspective how many people in Camden are struggling on a day-to-day basis.”

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The study, which cost £20,000 to carry out, recommends the council develop homes for low and middle-income families on public sector land.

Kirsten de Keyser, chairman of The Highgate Society, warned the “squeezed middle” were at risk of becoming the “new poor”.

She said: “If you take dizzying childcare figures and the cost of rents which are appalling, what are you left with?

“If you heard this £70,000 figure five years ago I would have completely refuted it and said you were mad, so it’s unbelievable that we are at that stage and it’s happened so quickly.

“The squeezed middle is disappearing. You can either win the lottery and become one of the very rich or you’ll become the new poor.

“We’ve been working for more than 100 years to eliminate social inequality and now we are destroying it in the last 10 years, which is shocking.”

Robert Taylor, manager at the Camden Federation of Private Tenants, said current private rents are the highest they have ever been and these families were at risk of being “priced out” of the borough.

He said: “Camden has always been a popular place to live because of its central location, but it’s now even more expensive than most other boroughs.

“A lot of people will be priced out of living in the private sector, particularly families on low or middle incomes.

“It’s impossible for people to buy a place unless they are extremely wealthy. You can see the level of owner-occupation becoming static.

“At the moment there are all sorts of people living in the borough but as rents go up, who will be able to afford to live in Camden?

“The very wealthy will end up in the centre and poorer people will be forced out onto the edge of the city: ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’”

The £70,000 figure is based on the Joseph Roundtree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard which calculates how much money a family needs to reach a socially-acceptable standard of living.

In addition to outgoings for food, clothes and shelter it includes money needed to create “the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society”. Childcare, rent and travel costs were adjusted to reflect living in Camden.