Women, Boris Johnson once "joked", go to university because they "have got to find men to marry". A throwaway comment, perhaps. As Johnson rushed to assure us, just a joke. One imagines him ruffling that hair: "Goodness, I adore women. Wonderful creatures."But actions speak louder than words. Before Johnson leaves office on the 5th of May and London votes in a new mayor and London Assembly, here's a look at the current mayor's legacy for women.
"London's housing crisis" has acquired the well-worn ring that comes from incessant use. Sadly, it's lost none of its poignancy, given that most of London lives it out on a daily basis.A quick reminder of the stats: London house prices are more than 50 percent higher than the pre-2008 financial crisis peak. The average London house price is £531,000. The average deposit required by a first time buyer is £91,409. On average, across London, rent is 62 percent of income before tax.Does this affect women disproportionately? Yes. Twice as many women as men spend half their salary on rent. Coupled with the fact that women in London earn £70 billion less than men, and given that women are more likely to be sole child-carers, this is absolutely a gendered problem.It's worrying, then, that Johnson believes soaring property prices are "the right problem to have" and "a massive premium here in London". Mind you, his opinion is hardly surprising when you consider he's a member of a party in which one in four MPs is a landlord.Meeting affordable housing targets would be a good place to start for the new mayor. In 2014/15, Johnson built 20,000 affordable homes in London, whereas London is thought to need 49,000 every year. Johnson has not reached his own target of 52,000 new affordable homes by 2015.What Johnson has done is push through proposals for the development of luxury flats. So if you're a woman who's in the market for a £2 million penthouse, you could say Johnson has a handle on housing in London. Otherwise, not so much.
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Every week, two women are killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner. On a national level, women increasingly find themselves with nowhere to turn. According to Sisters Uncut, between October of 2013 and March of 2015, refuges were forced to turn away 64 percent of domestic violence survivors."Since 2011, Refuge has experienced funding cuts to 80 percent of its services, with some being cut by up to 50 percent," chief executive of Refuge, Sandra Horley, told VICE. "The government has reduced local authorities' budgets, forcing them to reduce funding for services like ours."This year, Johnson announced the creation of the £5 million Pan-London Domestic Violence Service. This is in contrast to his decision earlier in office to slash the role of Women's Adviser at City Hall as well five posts and £90,000 in funding from the London Domestic Violence Strategy Team.The decision may have been a reaction to the fact that domestic violence is increasing year on year in London. In 2014, there were over 64,000 recorded domestic abuse offences in London, an increase of 11,000 from 2013.Meanwhile, the housing crisis is having a direct impact on women's ability to flee domestic violence."The lack of access to refuge space, combined with London's housing crisis, which makes any kind of home almost impossible to find, results in a fatal situation for survivors who desperately need to flee violence," a Sisters Uncut spokesperson told VICE. "We hope that the next mayor of London seizes the situation and provides solutions for women currently trapped living with violent partners, unable to access support that could save their life."
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
In London, 31 percent of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention on public transport, as have 24 percent of women aged 25 to 34. The numbers aren't falling.
"Boris has quadrupled the provision of Rape Crisis Centres," claims Zac Goldsmith. This is true. In 2009, there was just one Rape Crisis centre left in London. Now, there are four.Would it be churlish to point out, however, that funding from the mayor's office was only granted after a fierce campaign demanded that Johnson not backtrack on his election funding promise?During the run-up to his 2008 election, Johnson made much of his vote-winning promise to give £744,000 per year to Rape Crisis. When this failed to materialise, campaigners took direct action and, eventually, won.Now, the mayor's office provides £1.3 million per annum for London's rape crisis centres. Admirable, but would it have happened without the fight? According to Johnson's press office, yes, but from London's new mayor it would be nice to have promised funding to frontline services delivered on time.
Why do so many women dedicate their lives to wiping shitty arses and cleaning baths? According to Johnson, the answer is "love". Not so, said the heckling mums of Mumsnet last year: it's the patriarchy, stupid.The average cost of 25 hours of childcare in London is £150.60. That's 35.9 percent above the rest of the UK. Sitting alongside women's low incomes, this is a huge barrier to equality.
Under Johnson's watch, the cost of childcare has increased drastically since 2008, up from £100 per week for under-twos. Johnson also presided over the closure of the London Childcare Unit, which helped provide affordable places for children from low-income and single parent families (nine out of ten single parents are women)."Childcare is something that will urgently need to be addressed by the new mayor, not least because, after housing, it's the biggest financial commitment for London's single parents with a child under the age of two," said Fiona Weir, chief executive of single parent support charity Gingerbread. "So it's no surprise that around half of those we've surveyed have had to borrow money to cover the cost."
Income inequality in the UK is at a 30-year high and, within this, women make up a disproportionate number of low-earners. In London, the gender pay gap is 20.5 percent, compared to the national figure of 13.9 percent. Incidentally, of the 25 members of the Greater London Authority, only eight are women.Last year, 24 percent of women who work in London earned less than the London Living Wage (£9.15), compared to 17 percent of men. This, Johnson says, is down to immigration. Others suggest it's more likely a result of inflexibility in working hours and the fact that women are more likely to be unpaid carers and therefore only in waged employment part time.
If you're a refugee woman in London, life is particularly tough. A spokesperson for the All African Women's Group told VICE: "Boris Johnson has a bad reputation among refugee and asylum-seeking women in London. None of us will forget that he spoke about black people as 'piccaninnies' and talked about us having 'watermelon smiles'. [Johnson later apologised, saying he was 'sad' that people were offended]. He's done nothing as mayor to address the racism we face or the destitution we suffer. How can it be that in one of the richest cities of the world we struggle for survival: sleeping on night-buses or being unpaid servants in exchange for a roof over our head? We want a mayor who's ready to deal with the desperate poverty that we and many others face."It's hard to believe the mayor is emotionally invested in any of this, given the fact he once wrote off the £250,000 a year income he earns from newspaper columns (alongside his £143,911 salary as mayor) as "chicken feed".Again, if you're a woman who earns upwards of £250,00, you've probably been winning under Johnson. I suppose it's all a matter of perspective.More on VICE:What Does the Mayor of London Actually Do?Is Zac Goldsmith Trolling Us With This Weird Multi-Lingual Campaign Video?When Is It OK to Talk About a Politician's Background?