Anne Hildalgo, Mayor of Paris, has recently announced a plan to concentrate social benefits on Paris’ most deprived areas in order to help those living there who are surviving on less than 12,800 euros a year. (About 9,150 pounds a year).
The aid will be concentrated in the North East of Paris and some areas of the South East. It will help people living within the borders of Paris, and not in the suburbs. It is already a real challenge to find affordable living in Paris, and most people have been pushed out into the suburbs (‘Grand Paris’). As a result, this aid will benefit 150,000 people, whereas previously the number would have been 300,000. Gentrification of almost all areas of Paris has pushed up prices and meant that young people and those living on small wages can’t afford to live within the péripherique, the large motorway that encircles Paris, and separates it from its suburbs.
This investment in social aid will take up a quarter of Hildalgo’s annual budget as Mayor of Paris. The CAF (Caisse Allocation Familles) will also prioritise applications from these areas. The CAF is a form of housing benefit that is open to all applicants, whether students, young professionals, or people on low wages that earn under a certain amount per year.
It was interesting to read about this, as over the weekend I read an article that appeared in The Guardian about the current housing crisis in Britain. The article covered the general problem in Britain, not focusing specifically in London, although it’s clear that the problem in London is severe. Only a few weeks ago, an advertisement aimed at people in Hong Kong considering buying property in London listed the fact that there would be no social housing in the development as one of its primary attractions. In fact, developers are supposed to include an allocated amount of social housing in all new projects in London, but this is often bypassed by financial contributions to the local council. The area in which this development is being built is Greenwich, which, according to The Guardian, has 11,000 families on the waiting list for social housing.
If you go on the Mayor of London’s website, you will see a lot of references to the fact that London is booming, its population exploding, and the subsequent importance of maintaining its competitive position internationally in almost all arenas. As a result, I saw that one of the regeneration projects supported by the Mayor of London is the London Riverside Opportunity, which aims to create 25,000 homes and 16,000 jobs in Barking, Dagenham, Havering and Newham. It’s one of the 38 ‘opportunity areas’ designated by the Mayor’s office across the city. Commenting on the project, the Deputy Mayor for Planning, Sir Edward Lister said; ‘The capital is now home to record number of people and we are working tirelessly to ensure we have the homes, jobs and transport infrastructure to support the city’s unprecedented growth. London Riverside can provide genuinely affordable high quality housing for Londoners in a fantastic Thameside setting.’
The thing that struck me about this is that this seems to be a project for those who will move in to the area in the future, not those who are already living there. There are various other housing initiatives taking place in the area, in order to attract new buyers. Yet a project like the one introduced in Paris would probably be welcome in this area, especially as Barking and Dagenham has the lowest life expectancy in all of London (77 years for men, and 82 years for women). However, this further serves to demonstrate the different governmental policies in France and the UK recently. François Hollande, when elected, pronounced himself against austerity, and up till now, with a few recent exceptions, has kept to his word. The welfare cuts that the UK has experienced under the current government has led to less and less local council spending – over the next four years Barking and Dagenham council has to save £54m on top of the £90m already saved due to government funding cuts and therefore spending on social aid to help its poorest residents looks difficult.
Paris has a problem with the fact that it’s incredibly hard to affordable living within the péripherique. However, it’s still not impossible, and it’s encouraging to see a constructive social initiative that doesn’t focus on forcing people out of their homes. London seems like a more brutal place to live in contrast.