London is a fantastic city. I am proud to live here and I am proud to be one of the youngest Labour candidates for the London Assembly. There are many opportunities afforded to young people in London. Yet like all cities, there are dangers to be wary of. My worry, like that of many young Londoners, is that just as the opportunities are shrinking due to the lack of growth and jobs under this government, the dangers are increasing. And no one is feeling that shift more than London’s young women.
I think almost every young woman in London knows the feeling of unwanted attention on a night out. However, it’s one thing to feel intimidated by the a group of men who are making suggestive remarks on a busy bar-lined street, it is a different type of intimidation to be walking alone to a bus stop with the same group of men walking behind you.
Few will appreciate more keenly the cut in police numbers than those young women who rely on them to keep the crowds in order and to be patrolling the streets all through the night. The Mayor’s cuts to police numbers, of course, leave all Londoners at a greater risk of crime, a fact that is particularly worrying as we head into the Olympics. But as it is, London’s women find themselves in danger every night.
Poor street lighting, less staff manning tube stations, and increased parking charges in central London have resulted in a perfect storm forcing women onto public transport at night with fewer police officers around to protect them. And with wage freezes, VAT increases and fare rises, fewer will have the disposable cash now for that lifeline on a night out – the taxi home.
But we must not fall into a trap of dividing London between the raucous centre and leafy suburbs. The argument that we should beef up police numbers in zone 1 at the expense of police in outer boroughs has no weight given the widespread and terrifying rioting we saw last year across the capital. Boroughs like Ealing are just as exposed to the rise in crime. In the last two years Ealing has lost 26 police officers. 2,245 total theft offences were reported, an increase of 15%. Shockingly in the past year sexual offences increased by 16% in Ealing. The crimes young women worry about most – rape, assaults and muggings – are crimes of opportunity. We must not present those opportunities to criminals and it should be the Mayor’s first priority to ensure that we have more police on the streets especially as the Justice Secretary has admitted he anticipates a rise in opportunistic crime as a direct result of government policy.
I don’t think Boris Johnson has consciously put London’s young women in danger. I just don’t think he has ever stood in the cold at 3am, waiting for the bus home after five buses have gone past that are ‘Not in Service’, with a group of leering drunk men.
Ken Livingstone will reverse Boris Johnson’s police cuts. London’s young women deserve a Mayor who will make their safety his priority.
Mabel McKeown, CLP chair and candidate for London Assembly