Capital gains? Who gets the most out of London?

The popular perception is of London as a young city:  exciting, vibrant and full of opportunity. Barratt London sponsored Britain Thinks to find out what Londoners really think

Barratt London supported a major new study by Britain Thinks exploring how London is different to the rest of the country - and to the London of the 70s and 80s - and how Londoners themselves differ. Alastair Baird, Barratt London's Regional Managing Director, joined Dame Tessa Jowell, Baroness Jo Valentine (Chief Executive of London First) and Stephen Bevan (News Editor of The Sunday Times) for a panel last night, to discuss the findings of the research.

The research paints a fascinating portrait of modern Londoners, investigating their hopes and fears, values and attitudes, perceptions of local community and sense of place, and their eclectic lifestyles. It also hoped to understand how ‘big issues’ around housing, transport, crime and more relate to their everyday lives.

At face value, BritainThinks’ survey confirms London’s positive distinction. 8 out of 10 describe it as exciting (around twice as many as did back in the ‘70’s), and more lively than elsewhere in the country. 84% feel that there are enough opportunities for entertainment, events and cultural attractions to keep them happy (compared to only 51% of those living in the rest of the UK), while 74% say it’s a good place to set up a business. All in all, two-thirds feel optimistic about London’s future, while only half of other residents feel the same about their local area’s prospects.

London trumps the rest of the country in all these aspects now, and is also improving faster than anywhere else. Londoners are more likely than people in the rest of the country to think their local area has improved, and that improvement is seen in public service too: schools - once the reason to leave London - are now felt to be getting better; and concern about crime – identified by Londoners in the 1980’s as the worst thing about the capital - is now on the decline with 66% now saying they feel safe going out at night.

But London faces significant problems. 82% of Londoners think there is a shortage of housing in their local area – and more affordable housing is the most sought after improvement across London, ahead of concerns around transport, schooling and safety. London is also seen as too expensive and an increasingly unequal place: 77% of its residents think it is becoming a place for the superrich while people on normal incomes are squeezed out. These problems take an emotional toll: Londoners are much angrier than they were in the 80s and more stressed than those outside the capital.

These problems disproportionately affect young people, two thirds of whom feel that they have to make large sacrifices to live in the capital. These young Londoners are most likely to feel isolated, stressed, and angry. By contrast, many older Londoners love the city, having benefited from its economic rise and have learned to manage its pace.

Focus groups reinforced this stark contrast. Twenty-something graduates feel under constant pressure; “it’s like a treadmill” said one. They feel judged all the time. Those who have moved to the capital for work are disappointed by what’s available and often struggle to make ends meet. The London they know is a hubbub of congested underground trains, busy, airless offices and a constant round of letting agents - owning their home is a pipe dream, with two-thirds of 18-24 year old Londoners thinking they won’t ever be able to buy their own home in London.

Meanwhile, the baby boomers nearing retirement are seizing all that London has to offer. In their London reality matches the dream: vibrant and attractive, busy with theatre, galleries, parks and restaurants. They are able to appreciate London’s qualities and admire its diversity and tolerance. “I love living in London. I can do what I want when I want’ said one.

The survey identifies a third significant group: those who are less well off and living in outer London. Outsiders in their own city, this group are even less likely to feel they have a share in London’s success and actually feel excluded from London’s attractions. One described venturing into central London like going to a holiday resort, so strong was the feeling of ‘otherness’. 

The big question posed by BritainThinks’ survey is how sustainable London’s growth can be if its rewards continue to be so unfairly distributed – especially when the imbalance favours those who are – or are about to be - economically inactive. The study reveals that younger Londoners are significantly less likely to feel optimistic about their city’s future, and, crucially, more likely to leave in the next decade.