Full text of the column below.
I joined the Labour Party when I was 15 years old, a student at Ernest Bevin College in Tooting, because I believed the society I was growing up in wasn’t fair. This was much the same reason that I stood for election to Wandsworth Council at 23, and for Parliament at 34. My hair was a lot less grey back then! Yet whilst I believe the last Labour government did much to address inequality in Britain, much of our progress has been reversed by the divisive policies of the current Conservative and Liberal Democrat government.
In the last four years, the gap between the rich and poor has widened more than ever, and we have seen London become a tale of two cities. No matter which part of London you live in, you don’t have to walk very far to see it. With luxury penthouse apartments at one end of a street, and a block of flats at the other; where residents in one get to eat in the best restaurants in the world, enjoy the very best of arts and culture London has to offer and then the residents in the other work longer hours, for less money and have given up on the dream of ever owning their own home.
Social inequality isn’t the only inequality that Londoners face. My bus driver Dad could only have dreamed, as a new arrival to London in the 1960’s from Pakistan, that three decades later his son would be the first Asian MP to attend cabinet. When it comes to racial inequality, as a society we have come a long way, but still have far to go. It recently emerged that almost a third of people in Britain now admit to being ‘racially prejudiced’ and last week, research by South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust found that people from black and minority backgrounds in South West London suffer disproportionately from mental health problems, largely due to poverty and discrimination.
Inequality, both racial and social, is the single biggest threat to our economy, to our well-being and the cohesiveness of our society and it's only getting worse. The growing inequality in Britain cannot be ignored any longer and needs to be addressed head on – and the rest of Britain agrees. A recent poll found that 80% of British people think that growing inequality is unfair. And so what can be done to try and tip the balance? Why not start by increasing the minimum wage, building new homes, making renting more affordable and secure, and offering people real solutions to the cost of living crisis. We also need to tackle racial inequality too, with real plans to increase diversity in the police, the judiciary and in the board room, so that we have politicians and a civil society that reflects the diversity of the people Britain. It is only with real changes like these, that we can seek to create a fairer, happier society.