The topic of London’s young people was one of the very few causes where the four south west London GLA candidates saw eye-to-eye in a Riverside Radio debate, staged tonight.
Leonie Cooper (Labour, Merton and Wandsworth), Louise Calland (Conservative, Merton and Wandsworth), Hina Bokhari (Liberal Democrats, Merton) and Hannah Graham (Green Party) featured in an animated discussion with issues including affordable housing, policing and mental health.
Graham was especially critical of London’s current air pollution crisis, claiming it could lead to disastrous consequences for the next generation.
She said: “Unclean air can impact children’s cognitive development, asthma and even death.”
When posed a question about the future of mental health services by a year 12 student, Graham said: “For many young people, their community centre is their only safe space. The pandemic has created damaging home environments. A holistic approach is important to us.”
Graham added: “I know the full impact of austerity – £25 million snatched away for our young people – it’s not accessible.”
Graham commended the Green Party as the first to back voting for people aged 16 and over, a right the Greens want to ensure by the 2024 general election.
In addition, she said that Sian Berry, the Green Party mayoral candidate, intends to reinstate the Young Londoner’s fund.
Calland brought a focus on the Conservative party’s incentive to create affordable homes for young people and said that Shaun Bailey will appoint a deputy mayor to represent young voices in London.
This would be part of a Tory economic recovery plan for 24,000 new jobs and 4,000 additional youth workers, with ‘youth zones in every borough’.
Calland said: “It’s important for young people to have an outlet – we’re bringing in an onside youth zone – new areas where young people can talk about their mental health.”
Calland also spoke of a high street recovery fund for ‘sources of input that young people need’.
Labour’s Cooper said Londoners are ‘open and inclusive’, but this ethos has been damaged by cuts made to youth services by the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.
Cooper also emphasised the role of music, film and technology in engaging with young people: “I’m not a star on Tiktok, but we need to be supporting people as they move into the future with digital platforms.”
The Labour candidate also supported Sadiq Khan’s plan to build affordable homes and bring private rents under control, claiming the Conservative policy for the same incentive to be ‘just fantasy nonsense’.
Bokhari of the Liberal Democrats said: “Young people are very worried about the potential of getting a job.”
Bokhari added the Liberal Democrats are focused on young people in their approach, with an emphasis on apprenticeships, greater access to high quality mental health and community services, and an increased amount of councillors in schools.
Bokhari added: “We are the way forward for young people.”