1. Governance
December 18, 2015updated 31 Mar 2023 1:16pm

The geography of poverty in London is changing. This is how – and why

By Nicolas Bosetti

Few would deny that London has changed tremendously since the turn of the century. Accounts of gentrification and “social cleansing” have built a story of London turning into a playground for the global elite, at the exclusion of poorer households.

This narrative however misses most of why and how London’s poverty is changing. New research by Centre for London shows that London’s geography of poverty and wealth has turned inside out: inner London is home to wealthier, more skilled residents than ten years ago, while outer London boroughs are poorer than they used to be.

These changes take place against the background of population change. Between 2001 and 2009, 3.8m people arrived in London, while 3.4m left the city.

Higher-skilled residents have moved into east London, where poverty rates have fallen the most. At the same time, outer London boroughs now house the majority of the capital’s lower-skilled people – because the less well-connected parts of outer London are the only areas where new Londoners on low incomes can afford to move into.

But whilst inner and outer London have converged, there is evidence of greater contrast at neighbourhood levels. The best examples are the London boroughs of Hackney and Barnet, where the biggest change in poverty and skilled population took place. The maps below show how each neighbourhood of Hackney and Barnet changed its national rank of deprivation between 2010 and 2015. Blue means that a neighbourhood is moving out of deprivation at a faster rate than the rest of England; red the opposite.

Hackney comes up blue overall, meaning that, in most parts of the borough, rates of deprivation decreased much faster than in than the rest of England. However, the areas in white show that large chunks of the borough that did not fare as well.

Homerton, orange on the map, fared even worse than the rest of the country, despite the billions of pounds poured onto the nearby Olympic Park. Improvements in deprivation have been patchy, because the influx of wealthier residents happened alongside persisting deprivation among children and old people, for which Hackney still ranks respectively 10th and 3rd worse in the country. 

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Rank of deprivation change, 2010-15. Source: DCLG, Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 and 2015. Mapping by Consumer Data Research Centre.

Contrary to Hackney, leafy Barnet saw a marked increase in poverty rates since 2001, linked to a fall in the proportion of skilled residents. This increase in deprivation is visible on the map: many of Barnet’s neighbourhoods fared worse than the rest of England, and much worse than the rest of London.

Rank of deprivation change, 2010-15. Source: DCLG, Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 and 2015. Mapping by Consumer Data Research Centre.

But this rise in deprivation was not uniform: it got relatively worse in Edgware, Golders Green and Friern Barnet, while in close-by East Finchley and Hendon, deprivation improved faster than in the rest of the country.

Our research has shown that the paradigm of inner London being poorer and lower-skilled than outer London no longer holds. Cheaper outer London has replaced inner London as the point of arrival for low-income Londoners coming from the UK and abroad.

But rather than gentrified or impoverished, London boroughs are now housing wealthier and poorer households in adjacent neighbourhoods.

You can read the Centre for London’s “Inside Out” report here.

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