Our research into a Minimum Income Standard for London found that a decent standard of living costs up to 50 per cent more in London than it does elsewhere in the country.
These figures are based on a comparison of what groups of people in London and in other urban areas of the UK have said that different households need in order to have a minimum socially acceptable standard of living. This includes things like food, housing, being able to get around, and being able to participate in social life.
We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about how the “metropolitan elite” of London think differently from the rest of the country. Is it then possible that this minimum defined by Londoners reflects not just higher costs but also different values: Londoners expect a higher standard of living than people elsewhere in the country? If you look closely at our findings, they show that Londoners do live their lives differently, but that the London minimum is not a higher living standard. It’s about a different way of achieving the same, decent standard of life as in other parts of the country.
In many respects, the groups of people that we spoke to in London had the same perception of minimum needs as groups outside of the capital. For instance, groups agreed that people in London did not have different requirements for clothes or food than people elsewhere in the country, and they agreed that it was acceptable, as a minimum, for people to buy their food and clothes in one weekly shop at a supermarket in order to get the best value for money.
In some instances, London groups in fact had lower expectations than people we have spoken to outside of London. For instance, parents in London expected families with children to be living in flats rather than houses, and the minimum housing provision set for single working age adults in London was a studio rather than a one-bedroom flat. Working-age adults set the same budget for weekly budget for social activities like going to the gym or the cinema, despite these activities costing more in London. This suggests that they expected to be able to do these things less often.
Some increases in the budgets do result from Londoners identifying additional needs. However, looking at the detail of these conversations reveals that this was not about Londoners expecting a luxurious lifestyle, but about the trade-offs involved in living in the capital city. For instance, when groups in London said that single working age adults need to eat out once a fortnight rather than once a month, this was in large part because they are less likely to entertain at home; having less space in a studio flat and being likely to live on opposite sides of the city to friends from work. Similarly, the increases that both working- and pension-age adults in Inner London made to the budget for trips away from home were a response to the pressures that come with inner city life. Pensioners in particular noted how stressful it could be living in such a busy city, and felt that people like them needed to escape London a couple of times a year in order to get some peace and quiet.
Finally, the most significant factors contributing to the higher MIS for London do not come from Londoners specifying different minimum needs, but instead reflect the higher cost of directly comparable goods and services. For example, in Inner London, two thirds of the increase to the budget for a lone parent with one child arises from the high costs of childcare. All but one fifth of the increase to the budget for working age adults living in Inner London results from the higher costs of private renting in the capital, and this is despite the fact that these adults are in a studio rather than one-bedroom flat.
Our research in London thus reveals the ways in which costs can differ because of both different prices and different ways of living. And these two factors often interact. There is one service that is both more expansive and more expensive than equivalent services elsewhere, yet undoubtedly essential in Londoners’ lives. It’s called the London Underground.