If one were to walk through the streets of Shoreditch today, the string of hipster coffee shops, the overpriced vintage clothing stalls and the odd cereal cafe may be a shock to the senses. On a Sunday afternoon when the streets of East London are lined with the young and vibrant middle classes, looking to splurge on the next trend in fashion, food and art,one might be amazed to know that life is a lot less luxurious for the residents of E1.
Whilst London’s poorest boroughs struggle to meet education, employment, housing and health averages, they continue to be treated as areas where the super-rich can expand and exert social influence. Young professionals are moving in, opening boutiques and artisan businesses to sell niche items, or living in overpriced new-builds, designed to cater for career-oriented singletons rather than families. Such a climate has excluded already-existing communities, who have all but been given the means to share in this perceived affluence and development. These “up-and-coming” spaces have done little for upward social mobility for the poorest.
In east London, the borough of Tower Hamlets, where 49% of children live below the poverty line is perhaps one of the best examples of how the privatisation of space and social cleansing is damaging ordinary lives. With its fascinating and culturally diverse history, Tower Hamlets has come to be known for its successive immigrant communities that established themselves there. Such minority communities explored and developed their personal ambitions as the newest citizens of Britain, leading the charge against poisonous ideologies of 20th century Europe. The sense of group cohesion and achievement underpinned the very values of local society. Today, these descriptions merely serve as nostalgic memories of a kinder time.
Whilst on average incomes and social provisions have improved, official statistics are essentially misleading. There has been a rise of affluent individuals flooding in from other parts of the UK, consequently pushing the borough out of the bottom 20 poorest areas of England in official reports. This progress has not led to the upward social movement of residents as one would expect. Instead, the inhabitants of the borough of Tower Hamlets have continued to be pushed to the edge, living in overcrowded housing (due in part to the private contracting of housing) with stagnant incomes, as the cost of living continues to sky-rocket. This impossible living situation has for some years led to the uprooting of these communities. Unable to afford inner-city London, families have had no choice but to relocate to the outskirts of the city where, as the recent Brexit vote displayed, outsiders, especially those of ethnic backgrounds, are not welcome.
This growing trend in the capital begs the question: Will London soon be a city exclusively for the elites? To what extent can prosperity of the young professional class allow for the social displacement of those unable to offer the same kind of productivity to the economy? How beneficial is it to run society as the government runs the economy – valuing perceived productivity over social values? These questions must be addressed as the government begin to invest in such areas. It is the duty of government to ensure that rooted inhabitants, who have invested in their communities, can also benefit from development and modernisation.