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What do London mayoral candidates say on the big issues in 2021?

We asked the London mayoral candidates what they were doing on the issues that matter most – and then quizzed the experts on how their pledges stacked up

The London mayoral election offers candidates the chance to put their mark on London’s recovery from Covid-19 over the next four years. 

The mayor of London is a familiar face even to those who live outside the capital. They are the most powerful directly-elected politician in the UK and have a massive budget to get things done.

After a tumultuous year dominated by the pandemic, which pushed the 2020 elections back, whoever takes control of City Hall will have a big job ahead of them. 

The Big Issue asked the Labour, Conservative, Green, and Liberal Democrat candidates about the issues that matter the most and find out what they are promising when it comes to the major topics of housing and homelessness, poverty prevention, employment and the environment. We also quizzed the experts to find out what they think of the pledges. You can find the candidates’ manifestos in full at the end of the article. 

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Who are the main candidates in the London mayoral election? 

Before looking at what the candidates are promising and how their plans stack up, here’s a round-up of the main contenders all vying for control of the capital. 

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Sadiq Khan – Labour 

Incumbent Sadiq Khan, who is riding high in the polls, has defined his time in office by his creation of the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) and commitment to air quality. He has, however, faced backlash on not yet meeting his target for the number of new homes built. 

Shaun Bailey – Conservative 

Controversial London Assembly member Shaun Bailey is running for London mayor for the first time. Despite hailing from a working-class community, he has sparked anger for some of his comments on universal basic income and single mothers. He is promising a “fresh start” for London with major policies focusing on reducing air pollution and helping Londoners access the housing ladder. 

Sian Berry – Green 

Green Party co-leader and London Assembly member Sian Berry is running for mayor for the third time. Unsurprisingly for the party she represents, a significant amount of her manifesto is dedicated to the environment. But she also places a significant focus on access to healthy foods for all Londoners and more equal opportunities to employment for marginalised groups. 

Luisa Porritt – Liberal Democrat 

Former MEP Luisa Porritt is focused on access to housing, extended resources to allow Londoners to participate in active transport and the introduction of a universal basic income trial in the city. 

What are London mayoral candidates promising on housing?

There is a housing crisis gripping the UK. Many cities are suffering from a shortage of affordable homes and for those living in London, this is particularly acute. According to the Greater London Authority, presided over by the mayor, the city has “failed to build the homes we need”. 

So what are the candidates promising? 

In Sadiq Khan’s manifesto 

  • Build 10,000 new council homes and explore “right to buy back” for councils 
  • Build a majority of homes a social rent with safety and quality standards
  • Expand land fund to intervene in the land market and deliver more “genuinely affordable” homes
  • Give frontline health workers, firefighters and transport workers priority for new intermediate homes
  • End no-fault evictions
  • Create 1000 homes specifically for homeless people and address the specific needs of LGBT homeless youth 

Key quote

“If re-elected, I’ll continue to hold the government to account,” Khan told The Big Issue, “calling on them to reverse their draconian cuts and welfare changes which have led to a shameful increase in homeless across our country.”

What do the experts say?

Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of Generation Rent, which works to make sure the voices of private renters are heard, said Khan needed to aim higher with his housebuilding plans. 

“The scale of Sadiq Khan’s ambition for housebuilding is too low – with more than 60,000 households in temporary accommodation in London, we need at least that many council homes to give them long term stability at a low rent,” he said. 

“He recognises that land is the key to delivering affordable homes – the more that the GLA controls then the easier it will be to house the Londoners who are failed by the current system.” 

In Shaun Bailey’s manifesto

  • Cut council tax by 9.5 per cent over four-year mayoral term
  • Build 100,000 homes for £100,000 each, with 5 per cent deposit options available for first-time buyers.
  • Ban “inappropriate” new high rise buildings in Outer London. 
  • Direct a portion of Housing for London funds towards supplying accommodation that is specifically designed for those homeless people with complex needs.

Key quote

Shaun Bailey was unavailable to comment for this article. However, he did give an interview to The Big Issue last month where he set out his plans for housing and homelessness in the city. 

What do the experts say?

Responding to Bailey’s ambitious plan to build 100,000 homes, Craw said: “If Shaun Bailey doesn’t want high rise flats in outer London, he has to explain exactly where he will build enough homes to bring down rents. 

“The £100,000 homes risk only benefiting the 100,000 people who will get their hands on one – so it must be designed so that it is not simply a giveaway to a lucky few who have saved a deposit. 

“Public funds should be prioritised at housing people who are at risk of poverty – and that will ultimately benefit all renters as rents fall in the wider market.” 

In Sian Berry’s manifesto

  • Cut fuel poverty and put poorly heated and damp homes at the forefront of an energy-saving push
  • Create a London Living Rent for key workers 
  • Conduct investigations on landlord performance 
  • End no-fault evictions 
  • Dedicate support for youth homelessness

Key quote

“A safe place to live is a human right but in London, we’re failing,” Berry told The Big Issue.

“During the pandemic, I pushed the mayor to provide safe accommodation specifically for homeless people who are young but city hall can take more action to fix the temporary accommodation crisis and get the powers we need for rent controls. 

“As a private renter I know the urgency of this. I’m the mayor who can fix the housing crisis.”

What do the experts say?

Craw said a focus on sorting out damp homes was welcome, as this had a huge effect on the wellbeing of many Londoners. 

“Councils have a big role in enforcing existing standards on this so this should be a big part of the Mayor’s strategy and could help save public money in cases where the landlord should already be covering the cost,” he said. 

“Sian Berry, like Sadiq Khan, recognises the lack of affordable housing for the capital’s key workers – it is a scandal that workers are excluded from the city they serve.” 

In Luisa Porritt’s manifesto

  • Set up “London Housing Company”
  • Turn empty offices into homes
  • Fight for tenants’ rights
  • Introduce Housing First approach to homelessness
  • End no-fault evictions

Key quote

“I would set up a City Hall-backed developer – the London Housing Company – to take charge of delivering the homes that Londoners need: affordable homes,” Porritt told The Big Issue.

“The other thing that I would do is introduce a Housing First approach. Housing is a human right and we should make sure we do that all the time.”

What do the experts say? 

Craw said Porritt was right that a rethink would be needed about how office space is used now more employees are working from home. 

“A lot of commercial property has already been converted into flats but because of lax regulations, many of these are unfit to live in and left to our most disadvantaged neighbours – better standards are needed if Luisa Porritt’s approach is to work,” he added. 

“It is very welcome to see support to end no-fault evictions from Luisa Porritt, Sian Berry and Sadiq Khan but without powers to do this in London, the Mayor will be limited to lobbying the Westminster government alongside the rest of us.”

What are London mayoral candidates promising on poverty prevention?

According to Trust For London, which “works on some of London’s most pressing social issues”, London had the highest poverty rates in the UK even before the pandemic. 

The charity claims 2.5 million people live in poverty in London. This amounts to 28 per cent of the population living in poverty compared to 22 per cent across the UK. 

Here’s what the candidates said they would do to tackle the problem. 

In Sadiq Khan’s manifesto 

  • Allocate £1.5 million to closing the digital divide and allowing school children to access the equipment they need to learn throughout the pandemic and beyond
  • Lobby for universal free meals for all primary school children
  • Work with parents to maximise take-up of eligible benefits including childcare vouchers 

Key quote

“There’s no excuse for anyone in a country as wealthy as ours to live in poverty, particularly our children.

“The government needs to get its priorities straight and fix the gaping holes it’s created in our social safety net. As mayor, I’ll support our city’s businesses to create the secure, well-paid jobs that Londoners’ families need.”

What do the experts say? 

Martin Caraher, emeritus professor of food and health policy at City, University of London said: “The first pledge [on closing the digital divide] is a drop in the ocean. 

“The second pledge has merit, but why stop at primary schools? This could be a way of revitalising the hospitality sector and linking provision and hospitality jobs with school meals.

“Additionally, these pledges do not tackle the roots of food poverty.”

In Shaun Bailey’s manifesto

  • Build a strong economy as “work is the route out of poverty”
  • Provide funding for homeless shelters to provide free period products 
  • Establish a fund to support organisations tackling child food poverty 
  • Set up a London Disability Taskforce to help disabled people in poverty

What do the experts say? 

On Bailey’s promises, Professor Caraher said: “The [promises] by Bailey are charity based and therefore do not tackle the roots of food or other property inefficiencies.” 

In Sian Berry’s manifesto

  • Extend and ensure the nutritional quality of free school meals and meals on wheels for older people
  • Reduce the need for food banks through expansion of London Living Wage 
  • “Poverty proof” schools 
  • Introduce basic income, a living wage, and stronger security in employment.

Key quote

“Inequality has got worse in London after a decade of austerity which Greens have always opposed and now the cost of living in London is out of control. 

“Increasing in work poverty proves that wages aren’t high enough, including the living wage. I would set a real London living wage of £14 pounds an hour by 2022 and get more employers paying it.”

What do the experts say? 

Professor Caraher had a positive take on Berry’s policies. He said: “This is strong with respect to food poverty [and] addresses the roots of poverty while providing help to those in need.” 

In Luisa Porritt’s manifesto

  • Encourage more businesses to pay the London living wage 
  • Trial a Universal Basic Income in the capital 

Key quote

“I would use the platform of the mayor of London to encourage more of our businesses around the capital to pay the London living wage so that Londoners get the decent pay they deserve so they can make ends meet. 

“Having said that, we know that so many people are working and yet are still in poverty, so we need to be thinking about more dramatic solutions than that which is why I support the introduction of a trial in London of Universal Basic Income.”

What do the experts say?

Professor Caraher said the trial of a universal basic income is “innovative” but added: “pilots are exactly that: pilots – and sometimes end up as excuses for not tackling bigger or real issues.”

Discussing the pledges of all the candidates, Professor Caraher said: “None of them are really mobilising the power of the London Mayor and the GLA.”

What are London mayoral candidates promising on employment?

According to the BBC, there were 2.7 million people seeking jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit in March 2021 because they were “searching for work”. This compares with 1.4 million in March 2020, highlighting the extent to which the pandemic has battered the economy and brought mass redundancies

Many, particularly those in hospitality, have spent months on furlough as a result of successive lockdowns. There are fears more jobs could be shed when the furlough scheme winds down. What will the London mayoral candidates do when it comes to employment?

In Sadiq Khan’s manifesto 

  • Continue to expand the London living wage
  • End gender and ethnicity pay gaps
  • Support routes to employment for ex-offenders
  • Introduce financial support for freelancers and small businesses to recover from Covid 
  • Double London’s green economy sector by 2030 and develop green jobs

Key quote

“Our city has been hit hard by the pandemic. Thousands have lost their lives while many more have lost their jobs or had their hours cut. That’s why I’ve got a plan for London’s recovery that focuses on jobs, jobs, jobs.

“It includes helping businesses to create the secure, well paid green jobs londoners deserve, skilling up londoners and helping people retrain and banging the drum for London around the world in order to attract investment into our city.”

What do the experts say?

Dr Wanda Wyporska, executive director at The Equality Trust, which looks at economic and social inequality, said pay transparency was needed in all sectors. 

“As we’ve seen with the gender pay and bonus gap reporting, transparency is not the complete answer, we need to see action plans for how to tackle the disparities,” she said.

“It’s not just about our pay packets because income inequality is related to health inequalities, life expectancy and levels of poor mental health.”

In Shaun Bailey’s manifesto

  • Fund the creation of 11,000 green jobs to help London become a net-neutral city
  • Create 924,000 jobs over the next five years
  • Push for a return to the office

What do the experts say?

Of Shaun Bailey’s plans, Dr Wyporska said: “It would be great to see nearly a million jobs created over the next five years, but given the current situation, it’s hard to see how that might happen. With such an ambitious target we’d definitely like to see a far higher proportion of those jobs as green jobs.”

In Sian Berry’s manifesto

  • Create green jobs to make, re-use and repair more of the goods and services we need locally
  • Support anonymised job applications 
  • Work to have all jobs have flexible working arrangements as standard 
  • New job placement scheme for marginalised groups 

Key quote

“I have a mission to transform our economy and that means more green jobs. There’s so much we can do to boost employment from working in the green belt to putting repair centres on every high street in London.”

What do experts say? 

Dr Wyporska commented on Sian Berry’s pledge for anonymous applications. She told The Big Issue: “There’s no doubt that we need more green jobs and to green the jobs we have. 

“Anonymised job applications are one of the tools that can be used, but we need to overhaul recruitment practices and the cultures in organisations. 

“Flexible working as a right from day one is a part of this and job placement schemes would certainly help to combat some of the inequalities many Londoners face.”

In Luisa Porritt’s manifesto

  • “Reinvent” the high street to create more jobs
  • Raise participation in apprenticeships through a London Apprenticeships Hub
  • Covid relief fund for small businesses 

Key quote

“I want to reinvent our high streets. I think we’ve got a great opportunity to create more jobs in London by making our high streets more fit for the future with services that local communities want and need. 

“Things like shared working spaces, more childcare services and places to eat and drink after work. But also we’ve got a growing youth unemployment crisis in London and tackling this has to be a priority for the next mayor.”

What do experts say? 

“There has been much talk about reinventing our high streets and creating more community space,” said Dr Wyporska. 

“This would be very welcome in consultation with communities themselves, who know what their areas need. Porritt is also right to focus on youth unemployment so that we don’t consign a whole generation to a bleak future.”

What are London mayoral candidates promising on the environment?

Time is running out to tackle the climate crisis and the emergency is rising to the top of the agenda for politicians around the world

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is making bold pledges nationally, promising to slash carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 when compared to 1990 levels. 

As the biggest and most populous city in the UK, London will have a big role to play in helping to meet this ambitious target. But what will the candidates do? 

In Sadiq Khan’s manifesto 

  • Launch a 10-point Green New Deal, which includes making London a carbon-neutral city by 2030, reducing industry emissions, cleaning the TfL transport system and making electric cars more accessible
  • Expand the ULEZ 
  • Ask Transport for London (TfL) to review its current plans for a zero-emission bus fleet by 2037
  • Make the case for Government funding to enable this to be brought forward to 2030

Key quote

“I’ve said from day one that our recovery from Covid-19 must be a green one. We need to come out of this crisis, embracing a new normal that focuses on tackling the climate emergency.”

What do the experts say? 

Simon Birkett, the founder and director of campaign group Clean Air in London spent four years as the air pollution stakeholder on the steering group for UNEP’s sixth Global Environment Outlook.

He said Sadiq and Labour had produced an “excellent manifesto” when it came to environmental issues. 

“It is wide ranging, thoughtful and strong on climate, air pollution and encouraging a shift from the private car to active travel and public transport,” Birkett said.

“Sadiq should be bolder in some areas but may be ‘resting on his laurels’ after scoring ‘A-minus’ for delivery on clean air policies between 2016 and 2021.”

In Shaun Bailey’s manifesto

  • No expansion of ULEZ and exempt motorcycles from the zone
  • Zero-emission bus fleet by 2025 
  • Greater access to car clubs to reduce car ownership
  • Oppose the expansion of Heathrow Airport in all forms.
  • Expansion of urban woodline (in line with beautification drive) 

What do the experts say?

On Bailey’s plans, Birkett said: “Shaun and the Conservatives have big ambitions for eliminating diesel from London’s bus fleet quickly.  

“He is handicapped, however, by ‘car is king’ policies and the Conservative Party being the only major political party not calling for a new Clean Air Act to decarbonise buildings. 

“It is also unclear how he would ‘balance the books’ – as a result of scrapping congestion and emission charges and spending big.”

In Sian Berry’s manifesto

  • Set up citizens assembly on the climate emergency 
  • Have all GLA operations work at 100 per cent  renewable energy by 2026 
  • Oppose all airport expansions in London and South East 
  • Increase food production close to London to improve food security 
  • Introduce traffic reduction targets
  • Extend ULEZ to the whole city 
  • Scrap Silvertown tunnel project

Key quote

“The fact is no mayor so far has been ambitious enough to meet our climate or our clean air targets. Our homes are cold and damp, our green spaces are being built on and our air and water is polluted. 

“I’ve announced a zero carbon target for transport that I’ll achieve with the mayor’s powers alone. I want to make our streets and our homes healthy. London could be the greenest city in the world but we’re only going to get there with a green mayor.”

What do the experts say? 

The Green Party candidate’s plans “smash all records with the strongest and most comprehensive environmental manifesto” in London, according to Birkett. 

“As well as ticking all the big boxes on climate change, Sian has some great ideas for tackling one of the thorniest issues, such as the need for London to become a more vegetarian friendly megacity to improve people’s health and reduce particle air pollution and powerful greenhouse gases like methane,” he said.

In Luisa Porritt’s manifesto

  • Scrap Silvertown tunnel project
  • Make Santander bikes free to hire on Sundays
  • Extend the cycle hire scheme
  • Double expenditure on bicycle infrastructure
  • Make all busses electric or hydrogen by 2028
  • Rewild thousands of spaces across London from green roofs to more public parks

Key quote

“We need to be focussing on cleaning up our air so I would invest in clean green public transport projects.

“But it’s not just about transport. We need to address our buildings as well. I would make sure the new homes I want to create are zero carbon and that a programme of retrofitting is introduced so they are climate friendly as well.”

What do the experts say?

Birkett said the Liberal Democrat candidate had produced a “very good” manifesto. 

“It is bold on important areas such as eliminating bus emissions, encouraging cycling and scrapping the Silvertown Tunnel project,” he added. 

“We would like to have seen a bigger manifesto covering more of the important environmental issues in a similar way.” 

Read the candidates manifestos in full 

You can read Sadiq Khan’s manifesto in full here

You can read Shaun Bailey’s manifesto in full here

You can read Sian Berry’s manifesto in full here

You can read Luisa Porritt’s manifesto in full here

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