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Re-thinking sustainable prosperity in East London

Article about East London as a test-case for post-GDP measures

Our way of thinking about prosperity is changing, and with good reason.

In the last decade, the conventional notion of prosperity as material wealth, measured by rising levels of GDP, has been challenged by policymakers, social scientists and civil society. Influential economists – including the International Monetary Fund’s Jonathan Ostry – have questioned the continuing relevance of policies that pursue economic growth as an ‘end’ rather than a ‘means’ to create sustainable and prosperous societies. This questioning of GDP has led to the emergence of a raft of new approaches to measuring prosperity, wellbeing, happiness, social progress and quality of life such as OECD’s ‘Better Life Index’, the ONS’ Personal Wellbeing Measurement, the Social Progress Imperative’s Social Progress Index, and The Legatum Institute’s ‘Prosperity Index’.

It is undeniable that current economic practices have left many people and places behind. London is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and home to some of the largest and most powerful institutions, but is also the most unequal part of the UK. 27% of Londoners live in poverty once housing costs are taken into account, compared with 20% in the rest of the England. The cost of housing is the main factor explaining this higher poverty rate. The sheer numbers of those in poverty illustrates the size of the problem. There are 2.25 million in poverty in London. That’s more than the entire populations of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds. There are also 700,000 children living below the poverty line.

Like many other large cities, the benefits of London’s dynamic growth and urban expansion are very unevenly distributed. Access to secure and properly rewarded work, genuinely affordable and secure housing, and good quality education remain out of reach for many people. Add to this the local challenges of austerity politics and Brexit, and the global challenges of climate change, mass population movement and a rapidly ageing populations, and it’s clear that London needs to think differently about what sustainable prosperity means and how to achieve it. London needs innovative new partnerships, approaches and policies to tackle these problems.

This is the starting point for the work of the London Prosperity Board. Launched in 2016 by the Institute for Global Prosperity, the London Prosperity Board is a dynamic partnership between the University, government, businesses and communities. All parties are committed to rethinking what prosperity means for London and testing innovative new ways of working to make sustainable and inclusive prosperity a reality for the capital. By bringing together government, businesses, communities and academic institutions, the Board ensures that a broad range of voices will contribute to the project. Each partner also has a long track record of producing good work in East London. The combined experience and innovation of all of these players is crucial in the realisation of such an ambitious project. bringing together organisations with long-term interests in East London. For more details on the board, including a list of all members, click here.

Through cutting edge research, the board will investigate and innovative pilot projects that help policymakers, businesses and community groups alike understand the local components of prosperity, and the specific obstacles to it in East London. With this information, the London Prosperity Board can instigate new ways of understanding pathways to sustainable prosperity by working with our value-creating partners. The new knowledge and diverse abilities of our partners will enable the Board to test these new approaches to delivering prosperity, developing evidence-backed models which can inform future efforts.

One of the London Prosperity Board’s first initiatives is the launch of the East London Prosperity Index, a new way of measuring the prosperity of local communities. The Prosperity Index is the main output from the Prosperity in East London Pilot, an exploratory study carried out in 2015 by IGP and London Legacy Development Corporation, to understand what supports or prevents East London neighbourhoods from thriving. The Pilot Study was unusual in its focus on working with community researchers to develop a set of indicators grounded in local experiences and priorities. The most prominent message that emerged from the study was that prosperity, far from only being about the material, was about a broader sense of flourishing

The Prosperity Index is an important step forward, however, we need to go beyond simply providing new measurements. The work of the London Prosperity Board will also prompt a rethink of the role for businesses in creating new forms of social and financial value. The Board’s early work is engaging with questions about the changing nature of work and what this means for employers, entrepreneurs and communities in East London. The IGP’s Pilot Study showed clearly that many people in East London feel the quality and security of work and housing are critical to their prosperity and wellbeing. Yet they also describe the growth of insecure and temporary work and increasingly unaffordable and insecure housing. Although there are record levels of employment, there are also record levels of in work poverty and instability as low-skilled workers are squeezed by automation and casualisation. This is unlikely to get any better, with Boston Consulting Group predicting that 37% of British jobs at “high risk of automation”. Reconciling these changes with the expectations of citizens will be a key aspect of ensuring future prosperity.

The first phase of the London Prosperity Board is funded by JP Morgan, and Hang Ho, the Head of Philanthropy for Europe, Middle-East and Africa at J.P. Morgan said it “has the potential to lead to positive economic and social outcomes for the area and provide a platform for stakeholders from the public, private and third sector to work collaboratively with local people.”

© UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
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Global Prosperity Beyond GDP

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