We asked the four candidates who attended our Hustings if they would write a blog post for older Londoners. Here, we have the last of these pieces, from Sian Berry, Green Party councillor for Highgate, Camden Council.
I’d like to tell you a tale of two cities.
One of them is an excellent place to live as you get older. You’re never far away from the shops. You’re surrounded by people. The doctor’s surgery is walking distance and the hospital is a short bus ride away. In fact pretty much everything is a short bus ride away, which is particularly good when you have an over 60s oyster card or freedom pass. The city is a good, practical, sensible place to live when you’re not as mobile as once you were.
The other city is a tough place to be an older person. It’s loud, hectic and difficult. The Tube is a no-go area because it’s hard to get up and down to the platforms – particularly when you never know when the escalator’s going to be out of order at the other end – and the crush is horrible if nobody stands up and gives you their seat. Loose paving stones and lots of roads and kerbs to cross are a hazard now you’re less steady on your feet, and it’s much harder to get across the road now that you’ve slowed down, with traffic bearing down on you from all directions.
Life in this city is also hard if you’re insecure about where you live. If you have a spare room and you live in social housing, you’re vulnerable to the bedroom tax. If you live in your own home, you may be sitting on a massive asset but without the money to spend to keep it running. And if you’re a private renter, you may be in the worst position of all. It’s bad enough for young people at the beginning of their careers, but if you’re trying to pay for soaring private rents out of a pension, you may be facing constant pressure to downsize or to move completely out of the city that may have been your home for decades.
Which of these cities is London? I suspect that all too often it’s the second, particularly with three times as many pensioners living in poverty in inner London as in the rest of the country.
I’m proud that my Green colleagues at the London Assembly have spent the past 16 years nudging and moulding London into a more liveable place for people of all ages, and when I say I want to make the city work for the common good, part of the test of that is whether it works for our older people too.
For example my vision of a better city is one where people use cars less and walk and cycle more. Cycling certainly doesn’t have to be for the young and agile. I put something online about helping people cycle from the age of 8 to 80 and I had a comment straight back from someone who was 88 and still cycling. That’s fantastic, but we could do much more to keep more older people active and on their bikes if we reduce traffic and build segregated cycle lanes that are welcoming and comfortable even for people who aren’t fearless.
Similarly, I’ll do everything I can to improve walking in London. Two-thirds of Londoners live within a five-minute walk of their high street, and for many of us that’s what makes life in the big city liveable. Yet pedestrian casualty rates and air pollution are often at their highest in these local town centres, and too many of them are losing shops to big shops that are further away. We need to help keep our high streets vibrant by protecting smaller shops with new planning rules, and make them better and safer places to walk to, with useable crossings in the places where people are most likely to want to cross the road.
I’ve also pledged to make London the world’s first dementia-friendly capital city. I have been trained as a dementia friend myself and, as Mayor, I will train frontline City Hall and agency staff – including the police, fire brigade and Transport for London staff – to be dementia-friendly and a legion of helpful eyes and ears on the ground too.
Crucially, though, all the work we do to make the city better for older people will make much difference if they are being forced out of the city, away from the communities in which hey have spent their lives, by the housing crisis.
That’s why our Green parliamentarians Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones have argued tirelessly against the bedroom tax. It’s why we’re against the Housing and Planning Bill, which will require councils to sell off their most valuable council homes. And it’s why I’ve promised to call a halt to estate demolitions, which have already led to the net loss of thousands of council homes. I will also set up a Community Homes Unit at City Hall to support residents all over London to develop their own plans for new homes of all kinds. A big portion of this work will be supporting new co-ops and co-housing developments, which can play a large part in keeping older people supported and independent in the city.
That’s my vision for the kind of London I want to grow older in, and I hope you’ll support that by voting for me for Mayor on May 5 and supporting our Green candidates for the London Assembly.