For a certain type of British university graduate, moving to London is a rite of passage. If you aren’t qualified for a job that your granddad might recognise, be that lawyer, teacher or doctor, then your best hope for starting a career has long been the Big Smoke.
The internal UK migration figures collected by the Office for National Statistics bear this out, with more than 100,000 20-somethings descending on the capital each year.
But this is the only age group where arrivals to London outnumber the leavers. Once Londoners hit 30, they are more likely to move out of London than move into it – typically because they need space for their kids to run around in.
This is a trend as old as time. But in the past two years, something dramatic has happened: net emigration among 30-somethings has leapt by 25 per cent. In what is presumably not a coincidence, the same trend is visible among the under 10s.
What could explain this? Well, between 2012 and 2014, London’s house prices rose by 29 per cent, and rents by 6 per cent. In the rest of Britain over the same period, house prices rose 9 per cent and rents 2 per cent.
This accelerating exodus is the latest evidence that the housing crisis is starting to infect the wider economy.
London’s delights are well-documented: the parks, the public transport, the schools; the restaurants, pubs, museums, and theatres; the general excitement, the sense that anything is possible. And for many of us all our friends and family are here.
Yet it’s becoming harder to appreciate any of this – because, once your rent goes out, we have little left to spend on actually enjoying London. And if you’re preparing to move flat because, yet again, you picked a landlord who only cares about maximising his rent, or have given up on saving a deposit for a home whose value is rising faster than you earn money, you start to wonder if it’s worth being here at all.
It’s still a huge decision to up sticks, cut your social ties and take a chance on a different job market. Indeed, the ONS tells us that 64 per cent of London’s émigrés move to the South East or East of England regions, which are largely commutable for London workers.
But more than a third – nearly 100,000 people – are leaving for other parts of the UK. Some aren’t even making that decision, with councils relocating homeless families to cheaper parts of the country.
Migration to London by age group. Image: Generation Rent/ONS.
There are winners in this flight from London. The north should benefit from an influx of skilled workers, and those workers will be able to spend more of their earnings on things other than their landlord.
But for London, the result is a disaster. Communities lose neighbours, support networks are eroded and employers will have a harder time attracting talent. Teachers and doctors will generally find it easier to find work elsewhere, which puts greater pressure on schools and healthcare in the capital.
And because any given job pays more in London than elsewhere in the country, those shunned by the capital’s housing market will be getting by on a lower salary, paying less in income tax. The whole UK economy thus depends on London being affordable.
London’s success is built not only on its rite of passage for graduates, but the idea that incomers and native Londoners alike can build a life here. For now, 20-somethings continue to flock to London; but if their numbers start to drop, the city’s creative energy and, in turn, its wider appeal will decline.
The next London mayor’s job will be to stanch the outflow of families by throwing everything they can at bringing down housing costs. If they fail to do this, they’ll find that London’s success is all too fragile.
Dan Wilson Craw is policy and communications manager at the Generation Rent. The campaign group is comparing Mayoral candidates’ housing policies here.
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