London’s size means that each borough experiences different challenges. Some areas of the city boast good levels of financial inclusion, with easy access to banks and increased financial resilience. However, the Resolution Foundation has found that parts of East London and South East London are home to some of the highest concentrations of financially excluded people in the UK4. The London panellists highlighted food poverty as a major issue affecting Londoners. Cheryl Burden, Member Pioneer Co-ordinator at the Co-op said that this was a key concern for the ethical organisation. The Co-op has donated millions of pounds and provided emergency food support to enable five million meals to be shared in the wake of COVID-19.
The panellists highlighted the efforts of multiple organisations: “We launched the National Business Response Network to get gifts from businesses,” said Amanda Mackenzie OBE, Chief Executive of Business in the Community. “We tried to get food into the communities that needed it most urgently. Business really stepped up.” Unilever alone donated 4m products to food banks through this scheme.
The time is now to tackle systemic bias, the panellists said. “We’re not seeing enough action,” said Miranda Brawn, Founder of The Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation. “Everyone realises that we have a problem but the problem is that people are scared. They literally don’t know what to do.” Brawn said that more individuals, organisations and government departments need to commit to the ‘triple A method’. “That means ‘assessment, acknowledgement and accountability’,” she said. “First, organisations must be honest about the current state of play. Sometimes, they may be in denial. They think they have diversity and inclusion because they hired one BAME graduate. They need to go back to the drawing board and acknowledge the issue. Then they can follow the appropriate actions.”
Technology remains a white and male-dominated sector, noted the panellists, and more opportunities need to be provided to those from diverse backgrounds. Other recommendations include: more mentors for women and those from BAME communities; and that inclusion should be everyone’s responsibility – not just senior managers, but middle managers too.
Many Londoners still have no access to a laptop or home broadband, according to the panel. Joelle Robinson, a student voice on the panel, said that she experienced digital hardship firsthand: “I was struggling a lot,” she said. “I didn’t have a laptop and as London locked down I was trying to find a job. I started to work freelance, trying to do some social media managing but I found it really hard to find the funds to get a laptop. I had to save for months and that really impacted my ability to apply for jobs and do my CV.” Miranda Brawn warned that many young Londoners like Joelle do not have the access to digital tools they need to engage with online learning. As London and the UK moves into a world of hybrid learning and tech-based jobs, all young people must have affordable access to digital tools, she said.
“The digital divide is a big problem, especially for small business owners” added Muna Yassin, Managing Director of Fair Money Advice, a non-profit organisation that provides free debt and money advice services. “This group has needed access to vital financial support and services but often has a lack of digital literacy and also a lack of the equipment and technology. They need more support.” Yassin added that there was an incredible sense of community during the pandemic as small businesses, communities, and charitable organisations worked together to overcome challenges. “People have come together at a local level,” she said. “That has been a strength in this crisis.”
There is a huge gap between rich and poor in London and the pandemic is deepening the divide. The panellists said that the emergence of a “hidden two-tier economy” was a major issue creating a cycle of inequality. “One of the amazing things about London is that we live cheek-by-jowl with each other but that hides the two-tier economy,” said Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam Great Britain. “This moment of crisis is deepening this two-tier system because people who can’t access online work are stuck doing the sort of dirty, difficult, dangerous jobs that require a physical presence.” A two-tier economy is one that is based on some workers earning high salaries and doing high-value jobs while others take on the low-paid, unwanted jobs. “The majority of paid care workers in our community are living below the poverty line,” added Sriskandarajah. The panellists recommended a “full reset”, calling for multi-stakeholder partnerships to break down structural issues that keep the two-tier system in place.
Support for young entrepreneurs
Capital City College Group created its Visionnaires programme in 2019 to help young students set up new businesses. Its Start Up Step Up London programme, funded by the London Growth Hub and the European Social Fund, recently backed its 100th start-up. It has seen the number of people wanting to join its programmes double since the first lockdown.
Opportunities for young people
Unilever has partnered with the Amos Bursary to offer young people a unique peek inside the multinational giant through a virtual programme. The Amos Bursary’s mission is to “ensure talented people of African and Caribbean descent have the opportunity to excel in education and beyond”. Unilever conducted six sessions through the scheme, offering students an in-depth look at several departments.
In 2018, JCDecaux, the outdoor advertising brand, created a campaign to destigmatise loneliness and make meaningful connections. Through Sparking Conversations, it aims to get people talking, connect communities and help those experiencing loneliness feel less isolated.
The London Stock Exchange Group Foundation is a charitable trust set up to make investments into social enterprises and community businesses. The Foundation focuses its support on initiatives aimed at helping young and disadvantaged people to reach their full potential, through the development of life skills and business enterprise.
IEP BOOST Social Innovator
Settle supports vulnerable young people moving into their first home and aims to break the cycle of youth homelessness by ensuring that young people have the skills they need to manage their money, tenancy and wellbeing, through intensive one-to-one support.
BOOST has supported Settle to scale their services, by facilitating a range of introductions with different Housing Associations such as Golding Homes, and local Councils including Camden and Tower Hamlets, to increase their client base.
Help to bridge the digital divide and ensure all young people have access to digital tools and training, to ensure that they are not left behind in the move to hybrid learning, remote working and tech-based jobs.
Diversity and inclusion:
Make inclusion a top priority and commit to a more diverse workforce, with bold action across all sectors. There must be more mentors for women and those from BAME communities; and inclusion should be everyone’s responsibility.
Sectors must work together to tackle London’s two-tier economy and crisis-hit communities, through multi-stakeholder partnerships that address entrenched structural issues at all levels.