Today Londoners go to the polls to elect the next mayor who will take over from Boris Johnson’s eight underwhelming years in office.
Although several candidates are competing for the job, only two are considered serious contenders: the Conservative Zac Goldsmith, yet another posh boy from the British upper classes, and Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants, who wears his council estate past as a badge of honour.
What do they each stand for? Sadly the mayoral campaign has been mired in nastiness, personal attacks and pandering to people’s fears – so much so, that issues of real concern have been neglected.
Officially, both candidates claim to be committed to more housing, better transport, safer streets, cleaner air, etc. Goldsmith vows to “stand up for a greater London” while Khan promises to be “a mayor for all Londoners.”
But what, if anything, have Messieurs Goldsmith and Khan done to attract the vote of the approximately one million Londoners living with a disability and who belong to one of the most marginalised and excluded groups in society?
Not a lot, it would seem. Having voted to cut disability benefits earlier this year, Goldsmith was promptly asked to resign from the local disability charity of which he was a patron. Khan, meanwhile, didn’t even bother to vote.
So what will the next mayor do to remove the many structural, environmental, institutional and attitudinal barriers facing Londoners who live with a disability?
Not only is the unemployment rate amongst this group more than 20% higher than that of people without a disability; there is a significant income gap as well. Since 2007/8, the incomes for Londoners with a disability fell by almost 30%, which is double the income drop for other Londoners.
Then there’s the tube; London’s most efficient means of transport (when it works, that is). Only ¼ of the Tube is step-free to platform, thus limiting the freedom of movement for people using a wheelchair.
And whilst media love to dwell on perceived slights against this or that ethnic and religious group, disability hate crime remains a serious, yet woefully underreported, problem, fuelled by persistent myths and negative stereotypes about people with disabilities.
Too often people with disabilities are seen as a problem facing society when in reality society plays a considerable part in disabling people by failing to take sufficient action to remove disabling structural barriers.
As long as these barriers remain, London can’t rightfully claim to be the greatest city in the world.