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Not so ‘key’ after all

London and other big cities have seen the price of housing soar, well above the pay rates of even ‘key workers’ such as police officers and nurses, let alone security officers. Hence a consultation on the ‘housing crisis’ by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. As launched on August 4, he proposed ‘priority housing for London’s Covid heroes’.

The security industry has made much of its ‘key worker’ status as defined by the UK government in March, meaning for example that such workers during lockdown could send their children to school, so they didn’t have to arrange childcare. Security workers were not defined in a blanket way as ‘key’ (also called ‘critical’); only if they were protecting ‘key’ infrastructure such as power stations, or carrying out public safety or national security work, such as in prisons; or part of work ‘critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response’, for supermarkets, and ‘key public services’ and the like. But is such status actually turning into anything good? Mark Rowe asks.

The options for security workers and others in London are: either find an expensive place near your work, or a slightly less dear one further out, and pay instead for public transport, plus face the long and uncomfortable journeys by bus (slower but cheaper than the Tube) to work and back. And let’s leave aside quite how such workers can afford to settle down and start a family. The consultation suggests that key workers typically earn from £25k to £45k, so that they qualify for ‘shared ownership’ or ‘intermediate rented’ homes.

As Sadiq Khan put it: “Londoners know how much we value and depend on the hard work of the key workers who keep London running even during a time of crisis. Housing costs have driven far too many Londoners away from our great city, robbing us of their skills and expertise. Intermediate housing, alongside much-needed homes for social rent, can play a vital role in turning that tide.”

Fine words; except when you turn to the actual consultation document – the consultation runs until October – the definition of ‘key worker’ is all-important, as the document admits. Traditionally – and schemes to help ‘key workers’ into ‘affordable’ homes have been around since the 2000s – the definition has been public-sector only; the likes of the 999 services; nurses and doctors; teachers; even town planners.

The document also notes resilience – if, as the document notes, half your 999 front-line personnel actually live outside London, how sensible is that, in a disaster?! As the document puts it (as if it were only now plain), the Covid-19 pandemic ‘has also exposed our reliance on a much wider range of occupations including supermarket workers, couriers and public transport staff’.

Alarm bells should ring over whether security officers fall into this definition; for nowhere are they mentioned in the consultation. In any case, even if they were part of the ‘key’ definition’, councils and housing associations aren’t consistently using ‘key worker status as a way of prioritising’ between people seeking public housing, the document admits.

About the consultation

You can download the consultation document at https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/housing-and-land/buying-home/intermediate-homes-london. Responses should be sent to [email protected]


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