While many costs associated with living in London are similar to the rest of the UK, a minimum decent standard of living is substantially more expensive in the capital.
There is a long held view that life costs more in London. This view is not just confined to the usual suspects of housing, childcare and transport, but there is also a more general feeling that much of the ‘stuff of life’ is more expensive in the UK’s capital city. And it is not unusual to see reports bolstering such a claim: ITV reported at the start of 2014 that 1 in 4 Londoners were considering leaving the city because of the high cost of living; an ONS report last year showed record numbers of 30-somethings leaving the capital, not for life in a rural idyll, but to live in other UK cities which are more affordable. But what does it mean for cities to be affordable? And what does a minimum decent standard of living – a standard of living that the public thinks no one should be living below – cost in London compared to these other places in the UK?
The latest report from the Centre for Research in Social Policy outlines research which for the first time has systematically looked at this difference in minimum costs between London and elsewhere in the UK. We brought together groups of Londoners from different backgrounds to consider what a range of households in Inner and Outer London need for a minimum acceptable standard of living. And although many of the goods and services required to provide this standard are the same as those elsewhere in the UK, there are key differences which have a dramatic impact on the cost of living in London.
Some of these differences are related to prices. So public transport, housing and childcare all contribute to extra costs – the biggest additional cost in London, as might be expected, relates to housing, but childcare is also significantly more expensive in the capital for those who need it. Some of the differences are related to the different infrastructure in London, most notably the public transport network which brings with it different and additional costs. And some of the differences are related to ways of living in the capital that are, in some respects, different from elsewhere in the UK: this is not about setting a decent living standard that is higher in London, but rather reflects, for example, a lack of space for entertaining friends which may necessitate eating out cheaply rather than sharing a takeaway in your home.
The impact of all of these differences on what households need in order to have this minimum standard of living is stark. When a private rent for a studio flat is taken into account, this living standard costs 47% more for single working-age adults in Inner London – about £131 a week more than elsewhere in the UK. In outer London, single adults need 35% more (£97 a week). A couple with two children (aged 3 and 7) living in Inner London need around £164 a week (22%) more – including the cost of social rent and childcare – than their counterparts living outside of London; in Outer London the figures are very similar – a family of four need £157 (21%) more each week. Lone parents with a young child under two require £134 (25%) more in Inner London and £125 (23%) more in Outer London in order to reach this minimum standard.
It is clear that a minimum standard of living does cost more in London and this means that a decent life in the city will be unaffordable for a significant proportion of the population: we estimate that around 1 in 3 Londoners do not have the income needed for a decent standard of living, rising to 4 in 10 for families with children. This poses a clear challenge to those who are in a position to be able to do something about the high costs – the cost of public transport, for example, should be a priority for the new London Mayor in 2016 and far more needs to be done to ensure that there is good quality, affordable housing within the capital so that the broadest spectrum of people are able to participate in London life. Indeed, this research may provide the tools to establish what ‘affordable’ means.
To return to Samuel Johnson: ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’. If nothing is done to ensure that a broad cross-section can continue to live and thrive in London, I suspect that many more men and women will grow tired of London.