Third of Newham residents earn less than London Living Wage

Bill Allgood check the cans at the storage of the Newham foodbank in Bonny Downs Church Hall.

Bill Allgood check the cans at the storage of the Newham foodbank in Bonny Downs Church Hall. - Credit: Archant

Not being able to eat, feeling trapped in a monthly cycle of mere survival, putting your life on hold – these are just a few symptoms of low pay in London.

But for the residents of Newham, such frustrations are more widely felt than anywhere else in the capital.

That’s because more than a third – 37.8 per cent – of all people living in the borough earn less than the London Living Wage, the highest proportion in the city, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics.

For one man living and working in Newham, earning below the £9.15 an hour the Living Wage Foundation says is needed to meet the basic costs of living is a constant worry that he feels stunts his personal development.

“I feel trapped on a low wage,” Keerthikan Thennavan, who works at a major supermarket in the borough, said. “It’s very difficult. I feel stuck in the present.

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“Money comes in but it’s purely for surviving. 70pc of it goes on rent, most of the rest goes on travel, and I get by on very cheap food and clothes.”

Sri Lanka-born Keerthikan, who lives in Silvertown, backs the idea of a living wage because he believes it could give him the opportunity to move forward.

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“Everything goes on bills now,” the 27-year-old said. “If I had a living wage, I could have some money in my hand and do something I wanted to do like build up my life, get a better education, get better at English.

“My dream is to be a journalist, but that is completely on hold now. I can’t plan anything because I’m being held back by money – I can’t even go back to Sri Lanka and I miss it.”

While Keerthikan feels constricted by his low wage, there are others in the borough who are unable even to feed themselves.

“We have families who are working full-time and they still have to use our service,” Adeola Osunbade, project manager at Newham Foodbank, St Marks Centre, in Tollgate Road, said. “They have a choice: buy food or buy an Oyster Card. And the numbers are increasing – last week we had 19 families coming to us. Our supplies are falling and we need more food to help people.”

One of the borough’s political parties believes the problem is primarily caused by rent costs – and wants to implement an even higher living wage, £10 an hour.

“People live in horrible poverty in Newham, on the outskirts of the capital city of one of the richest countries in the world,” Helen Pattison, a spokesperson for TUSC Newham, said. “There are families living in one room and street homelessness is getting worse. Families can’t afford the rip-off private rents.”

The Living Wage Foundation will announce the updated living wage figures during Living Wage Week, which is from November 1–7.

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