Four in five Londoners think their city should have a higher minimum wage than the rest of the country

Rich and poor: Poplar's Robin Hood Estate, with the towers of Canary Wharf behind it. Image: Getty.

Nearly eight out of ten Londoners (78 per cent) think their city should have a higher minimum wage than the rest of the country, new research by the London Fairness Commission has found. Even more (83 per cent) think it should be at least £9.15 – the figure currently set as the London Living Wage by the Living Wage Foundation. 

This polling, carried out by leading market research agency Survation, was commissioned by the London Fairness Commission – the first citywide debate on fairness since Charles Booth mapped levels of poverty and wealth over a hundred years ago.  Over the next 9 months, we will be asking Londoners to consider how they view fairness, whether London is a fair city, and what, if anything, should be done to make London fairer. 

These are tough questions – but rather than starting with the answers we will listen, reflect and then pass our findings to the new mayor next year.

Our polling found that half of all Londoners don’t feel that their wage is a fair reflection of what they do at work. And only 1 in 4 believe their pay has kept up with the cost of living over the past five years.

But while many are worried about pay, Londoners appreciate the cultural assets and multicultural society of their city.  A majority (58 per cent) feel London is a place where people have an equal opportunity to succeed in life, regardless of their background.

Interestingly, when respondents were asked to choose the three best things about London, the second most popular choice was that "London is a multicultural city where people from different ethnic and religious groups are brought together". The most popular was that London is a cultural centre with "something to suit everyone". Meanwhile, the things named as the worst things about London were the cost of housing and the cost of living.

Our poll also found that a majority of Londoners (57 per cent) believe it is not fair for people to paid very high salaries when others in London are struggling to get by. However, a third of men (33 per cent) and a quarter of women (24 per cent)  took the opposite view, saying that it is fair for top earners in London to be paid very high salaries as they contribute great value to London’s economy.

When presented with actual figures, 79 per cent of Londoners feel it would be unfair for a CEO running an organisation that employs people on the National Minimum Wage to be paid more than £500,000 a year. 

This preference is strong amongst those intending to vote both Labour and Conservative at next year’s mayoral election.  Some 86 per cent of those intending to vote Labour and 70 per cent Conservative believe £500,000 is a fair maximum.  However, nearly 1 in 5 (19 per cent) Conservative voters believe there is no such thing as an unfair salary for a CEO employing someone on the minimum wage. 

In so many ways, London is a unique city and its residents will therefore have a unique understanding of what is and is not fair. So the London Fairness Commission is currently asking individual Londoners and organisations based in London for their three fairness priorities. 

We’ll be using these findings to guide our discussions with Londoners over the coming months.  You can find details of our ‘Call for Ideas’ on our website here.

Liz Meek is the chair of the Centre for London and commissioner of the London Fairness Commission.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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