18 years have passed since London elected its first Mayor. How has living, working, and travelling in the city changed? Here’s a quick snap shot in six graphs:
After years of central government trying to run London on the cheap, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson oversaw big investment in infrastructure, with £50 billion invested in transport projects alone since 2002. By the time Crossrail 1 is opened (we very much hope next year), this will have enabled an impressive 50 per cent increase in London’s rail capacity – both in the form of upgrades to existing lines and the construction of new ones. Investment in transport was part of a broader pattern of spending on London’s regeneration and built environment, also exemplified by the 2012 Olympics.
London continues to top surveys as a leading ‘global city’, vying with New York. But the city tends to do best on ‘soft power’ factors – creativity, culture and openness. As a result, London has become a magnet for students and skilled young workers from across the world, topping the QS Best Student Cities survey 2018.
The last 20 years have also seen impressive economic growth. There’s been a 30 per cent increase in jobs in London since 2000. Surprisingly perhaps, London’s jobs boom accelerated after the financial crisis, with more jobs added in the ten years since 2008 than in the ten years before. True, unemployment remains stubbornly high among some sections – 14 per cent for 16-24 year olds and 10 per cent or more for some Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority groups. But overall, unemployment has also been at a record low, falling to below 5 per cent last year.
But London’s infrastructure record, cultural strength and economic growth are not the whole story.
The capital has struggled to deliver the level of housing, particularly affordable housing it needs. Supply reached a new 40,000 high last year (net of demolitions, conversions etc) – twice the number produced in the slump years of 2010-11 and not far off Mayoral targets. But the picture is less rosy than that suggests. First, there are signs that housing supply is slowing, as prices stall. Second, London’s record on ‘affordable’ housing has been lamentable – only 15 per cent of new homes built last year fell into this category. Finally, the new London Plan sets a much higher target for the number of homes we need (65,000 rather than 40,000), and so the city is doing less well, even on market housing.
Wages and housing costs
At the same time, housing undersupply has contributed to rising prices, and a squeeze on living standards. In the years before the crash, housing costs and earnings were rising more or less in parallel. But since then the two have diverged dramatically. Wages have risen by 10 per cent, rents by 30 per cent, and house prices by a massive 75 per cent. It’s no surprise then, that despite a jobs boom, poverty rates after housing costs have worsened slightly – 28 per cent of Londoners live in poverty – or that working poverty in particular has increased. And rising prices for property and other assets have driven a sharp rise in wealth inequality. In 2010-12, the top 10 per cent had 700 times the total wealth of the bottom 10 per cent. In 2014-16, they had 1200 times as much.
Spending on local services
At the same time, the capacity of local government to meet local, and especially vulnerable, Londoners’ needs has been weakened. Borough spending per capita has fallen by a third since 2010-11. And boroughs’ efforts to protect social services spending has meant that cuts have fallen most heavily on what are sometimes called ‘discretionary’ services. These are in fact vital city services, including support for street and park services, and local youth, community and cultural activities.
Finally, there are indications that London might be losing some of its magnetic power. After decades of population growth, the pattern changed in 2017. A fall in international in-migration and an increase in domestic outmigration combined to cut the rate of growth by half.
The big question is, is this a blip or a turning point?
So what can we take away from this?
Many of the foundations on which the London of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, London’s first two mayors, were built are starting to look shaky:
- The government no longer seems convinced by the case for high investment in London, with the future of schemes like Crossrail 2 uncertain.
- Migration is down.
- And Brexit threatens London’s reputation as a creative and welcoming city.
Perhaps it’s time to ask whether the capital’s government – still very weak by international standards – has the powers it needs to meet the challenges ahead.