Are lives in Tottenham worth less?
David Lammy always seems to me like one of the UK’s better politicians. I don’t always agree, but he says a lot of intelligent things, and is often in the news saying them.
At the moment, his constituency is a focus of what looks like the early signs of rising violent crime in the UK. Four young people have been killed since Christmas. He tweeted about it. My friend replied. I shared it.
I could imagine what the response would be, so I thought twice before clicking retweet. In this case a retweet is an endorsement. I still shared it.
It is terrible that young people in Tottenham have died, and terrible that many more live in fear of attack. David Lammy is absolutely right to want something done to reduce that fear. He has been making useful and sensible suggestions for months. I completely understand his passion to do something.
But I do not think that the lives of David Lammy’s constituents in Tottenham are valued considerably less by national politicians than those elsewhere in the country. In fact, I think that they are probably valued a bit more than average, and I think that it really matters.
National police funding.
Policing in London is run by The Mayor of London, but mostly funded by the UK national government. Since Lammy has not to my knowledge criticised The Mayor of London for ignoring policing in Tottenham compared to wealthier and more suburban parts of the city, and because he addressed his complaint to the PM and Home Secretary, I assume that he was referring to national police funding.
I moan a lot about what I see as unfair allocation of funding within the UK. I moan about transport, R&D, and culture most of all. I don’t moan about police spending. Why not?
The Metropolitan Police is funded at about double the rate per resident as Greater Manchester Police or West Midlands Police. I don’t moan because The Metropolitan Police face extra challenges and fulfil extra duties. If I wanted to make a cheap and misleading point, I could compare funding levels. I won’t.
Since I won't compare absolute funding, let’s compare cuts.
The police service has endured significant cuts since 2010. Have London’s police been cut disproportionately to the rest of the UK? The National Audit Office’s “financial sustainability of police forces” report says no.
Police cuts seem to have been spread evenly across the country. London, with less severe cuts to local government than other big cities like Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool, was better able to protect them using local budgets. With both Greater Manchester and The West Midlands consistently having a higher murder rate than London this doesn’t look like severe dis-preference to me.
Other ways in which lives in Tottenham are not valued less.
What frustrated me and others about Lammy’s comments is the strong suggestion that the lives of Tottenham residents are valued less by central government than elsewhere. You can read my other blogs to see how they are not seemingly valued less when it comes to investment in transport, R&D, and culture – so I’ll just add education here.
In 2016/17 the average spend per pupil in Tottenham was £6,061. Of 531 constituencies in England that was the 15th highest. For comparison, in Bradford’s three constituencies spending per pupil was £4,950, £5,010, and £5,054 — still high but much lower.
This extra spending and the extra attention for London’s education system through programs like the London challenge have led to some fantastic outcomes. Despite having very high child poverty, a child growing up in Tottenham is just as likely as a child from the whole of North West England, rich and poor, to go to University.
This is not what being valued less looks like.
So what to do?
Some people would say that my response to this is “a shitty way to respond to teenagers getting killed”. I understand. As with gun debates in the USA after mass shootings, and social housing debates in the UK after Grenfell, some will argue that we should focus on the tragedy and not the bigger picture.
I don’t think I could be any clearer that I think that teenagers getting killed is absolutely awful. Compared to that, suggesting that the national government values lives in Tottenham less than elsewhere is a drop in the ocean. But it’s a drop that’s part of an important bigger picture.
Another response would be to retreat to semantics, party politics, and a touch of implied personal attack. Ignore the many parts of the UK where people’s lives do seem to be worth less than in Tottenham and say something like “when Lammy said elsewhere he meant leafy Oxfordshire where more people are white, and they vote Tory”. It’s a decent argument, but it doesn’t seem to align with the fact that London hasn’t been particularly badly hit by police cuts. Nor does it align with the fact that Greater Manchester’s consistently higher murder rate, leaving mostly white victims dead, has been roundly ignored.
I think it would be useful to challenge the Mayor of London to focus policing efforts even more strongly in Tottenham. I would suggest that perks that Londoners enjoy such as free young people’s bus passes, free elderly train travel, free museum entry, and the cheapest public transport fares in England be reconsidered so that more money is available to policing. Perhaps some of London’s councils could charge higher council tax too; they currently charge some of the country’s lowest.
And yes, attack the Tories for cutting police budgets nationally too.
But don’t suggest that London’s police have been cut particularly hard without some evidence. I do not accept that lives in Tottenham are considered by national government to be worth less than elsewhere in the UK. The evidence shows the opposite.