THE BLOG

A London That's Too Expensive for Nurses and Bus Drivers Is a London We Cannot Afford

19/08/2015 17:46 BST | Updated 19/08/2016 10:59 BST

What better symbol is there of Boris's eight years as Mayor of London that the new Routemasters? As I recently exposed with the help of some of London's bus drivers, these buses are not green, their engines are faulty, and they are not safe. Passengers can no longer hop-on-hop-off as intended - it is now too costly to employ a conductor on board, who could enable them to do so safely. They are an expensive, faulty flight of fancy from a Mayor who is completely out of touch with London.

I recently had a meal with a bus driver who I met through my research on the Boris bus scandal. It was thanks to the courage of drivers like - let's call him Ahmed - that I was able to get this story out. What he told me again underlined the startling consequences of the extortionate cost of living on ordinary Londoners - the bus drivers, nurses, night workers, cleaners and all the others that London relies on.

Ahmed has been driving for several years and he is in trouble over a minor accident which means he is on his final warning. Bus companies are eager to get rid of longer-serving drivers as their benefits are more expensive than those of new employees. (Bus drivers are, in any case, paid around half the amount Tube drivers get, even though in many respects their jobs are more stressful.)

Ahmed is in his early thirties and still lives with his mother. He is thinking about marriage but how can he cope? On bus drivers' wages, there is no chance of being able to buy and he will not get anywhere to rent near where his mother lives in inner London. He would have to go far out, but he works centrally, and often ends or starts his shift very late. A car is probably beyond his means once he is paying rent. The private rented sector might seem like an obvious solution. But - as it is currently completely uncontrolled - it is too expensive.

Jane, a nurse, is also facing a dilemma. She is currently housed in a council flat but with her husband earns just over £40,000 which, under proposed legislation, would mean they will have to pay a market rent. There is no way they can afford a big rise in rent - though she says 'no one has explained what the market rent would be' - and is terrified that they might lose their home, with no hope of being able to buy or rent privately.

Sadly, Jane and Ahmed's situation is the same for many other Londoners I have spoken to.

Three things are clear. Right to buy has priced many Londoners out of the possibility of owning their own home. Government legislation forcing people in council houses on small incomes to pay market prices places many at risk: the very people social housing is supposed to support. And while the private rented sector continues unregulated and prices escalate, more and more Londoners - particularly younger people - see their opportunities for home security dwindle.

These examples, just two from many I have heard in recent months, show the importance of a mayor who really understands the issues facing Londoners - and is prepared to put out new ideas and think radically about their needs.

A solution for central government could be agreeing long term rents under market rates with landlords, at a level set independently, and not taxing this income. This would provide an incentive for landlords to charge responsible costs, and ease the burden on those who rely on private rented housing. It offers a compromise in the current stand-off between those who believe controls would wreck the market, and those who insist it is the only way to ensure affordable housing for people on average incomes in the capital.

The mayor cannot afford to stand still on housing. That is why I have published my housing policy - 'Putting a roof over our heads' - with solutions we can implement in the next mayoral term. You can read a copy online here: www.wolmarforlondon.co.uk/housing