Deprivation is not always visible. In Lewisham, it’s made manifest by its many payday loan lenders – the borough has the highest number in the country, with 7.6 stores for every 100,000 residents.
Lewisham’s high levels of deprivation –- it’s the 16th most deprived local authority in the UK — translate to below average voter turnout in all of the previous decade’s local elections.
Evelyn, the second most deprived ward in Lewisham, has consistently had dismal voter turnout rates. In 2010, when the London average turnout rate was 63%, Evelyn voted at a rate of 52%. In 2006, the ward’s residents voted at a rate of 28% and in 2002, the figure stood at only 20%.
On the other end of the deprivation spectrum, in wards that are less deprived, voter turnout was remarkably higher. In the five least deprived wards in the borough, voter turnout was, on average, 5 percentage points higher than the London average in 2010.
Raymond Woolford, of People Before Profit and founder of the Lewisham Food Bank, explained that the problems that plague the country’s poorest are particularly prevalent in Lewisham.
“What we’re finding [in Lewisham] is that housing poverty is a big issue,” Woolford said. “Rents have gone through the roof. Even for people who are on relatively good pay are finding rent eating up three-quarters of their income, plus council tax and bills.
“[Housing policies] are forcing young families out of the area; it’s forcing families to break up,” Woolford continued. “[The children] of older people in the area who’ve lived here for generations can no longer afford to live in this area.”
Woolford also highlighted the rise of betting shops in Lewisham, which has further exacerbated problems like hunger and domestic violence in the area.
For those unsure about voting in May’s election, this will be your chance to have your voice heard, and to shape the policies your community’s authorities adopt.
The last day to register to vote in the local elections is May 6. For more information on registration, see Lewisham council’s elections webpage here.
By Hajera Blagg & Taku Dzimwasha