Jean Lambert MEP: London’s communities will lose £500m thanks to Brexit

An EU flag over Westminster. Image: Getty.

A quick glimpse at this month’s headlines paints a grim picture of the UK’s social standards. Income inequality is at its widest since the mid-1980s, one in five people live in poverty, child homelessness is at a 10-year high, and food bank use is an alarming 20 times higher than it was in 2010.

The Prime Minister has assured us that leaving the European Union will create a “stronger, fairer and more prosperous future for us all”. However, there’s one issue she’s so far conveniently failed to mention. Leaving the EU will cut the UK off from an assortment of funding pots that are earmarked to reduce social and economic inequality.

As a Member of the European Parliament for London, my primary focus is on how Brexit will affect the capital. London is the UK’s richest city, but it is also the most unequal. Inner London actually qualifies for a particular category of EU funding precisely because it has such high youth unemployment.

That means Londoners will be hit particularly hard if they are denied access to this EU funding. My new report “Losing it over Brexit”, released last week, finds that London is set to lose more than £500m towards supporting its communities each year. That’s more than £5bn over the course of a decade.

This money currently comes to London through a number of pan-European funds – some as grants, some as loans, and requiring an element of match funding in order to qualify.

Among the largest are the European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF) which invest roughly £98.1m (€106.9m) each year into job creation and creating a sustainable, healthy environment in London. The Horizon 2020 fund contributes a huge £301.2m (€328.3m) annually into driving economic development and creating jobs in the city. Meanwhile, Erasmus Plus invests £7.2m (€7.8m) yearly into modernising London’s education, training and youth work, as well as providing opportunities to work and study across Europe.

At first glance, these funding streams may appear somewhat broad and intangible. However, the money trickles down into projects that make a real difference to Londoners lives. For example, Love London Working is delivering basic skills training to 21,000 unemployed people with the aim of helping them into work. Paddington Development Trust is promoting urban regeneration for the public benefit in areas of social and economic deprivation. Inspiring Women is working to encourage women in London to establish and grow their own businesses. Meanwhile, RISE is supporting refugees and asylum seekers as they seek to integrate into new communities in 10 London boroughs.

The programmes will remain open until 2020, and the Chancellor has committed to honouring any EU funding agreements that were signed before the Autumn Statement 2016. After these finish, he says, the UK will continue to fund projects if they provide “good value for money” and are in line with undefined “domestic strategic priorities”. The Chancellor has shown an interest in continuing to participate in the renowned Horizon 2020 programme, if the UK is given the opportunity to ‘buy in’. However – as we well know – at this stage, everything is to play for.


The government has also promised to launch a Shared Prosperity Fund in order to “use the structural money that comes back to the UK as a result of Brexit” to reduce inequalities and “deliver sustainable, inclusive growth”. However – 18 months after the EU referendum – we’re still none the wiser as to how this might work in practice.

I’d also like to point out that if we do indeed save much (if any) money from leaving the EU, there will be a gargantuan number of new systems and procedures to set up and oversee. Under immense financial pressure, can we really trust this government to put any newly-available funds back into these grassroots social projects? After all, it has spent the past eight years inflicting savage cuts on local authorities, in the full knowledge it was deeply damaging thousands of community initiatives.

This is nothing short of gross neglect by the UK government. Many of the organisations surveyed for my new report voiced anxiety about being cut off from their financial lifeline. As ever, the wealthiest in society are unlikely to notice when this money disappears. It’s the poorest and most vulnerable who will suffer when trusted projects and support networks are forced to shut their doors.

That’s why I’m calling on the government and the London mayor to ensure that London’s communities don’t lose out on funding as a result of Brexit. There is an urgent need to map the EU’s existing funding programmes, and build a robust new model around the most effective elements.

Meanwhile, any new funds made available by the government should be decentralised to City Hall which can ensure it reaches the Londoners who need it the most.

There’s a great deal at stake here. As high-level Brexit negotiations rumble on, it’s crucial that ministers don’t lose sight of the massive and successful funding pots at stake. We need concrete guarantees that London’s people and communities will not be harmed by their reckless, blinkered approach to Brexit.

Jean Lambert is Green MEP for London.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.