In this chapter, we look at what Londoners say matters to them personally, what they think matters to the city, and what their values and choices are for the future.
London is home to around nine million people: in population terms, it is bigger than many countries. The population is diverse in every sense: age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, country of birth, ability, health, work, political views, religion… the list goes on. Asking what matters to Londoners is both an impossible question – it has nine million answers at any point in time – and a vital one.
In this chapter, we draw largely on the results of public polling carried out specifically for this project, and on feedback from our Your Future London online engagement. (See the Appendix for more information on both.) Far more data was collected than we can share in this report, and more detailed data tables are available in the report supplement. Our research was informed by a vast range of data and information from a variety of other groups and sources.
What matters to Londoners personally: safety, health and protection
We asked Londoners to tell us which issues mattered to them the most from a defined list. The issue they ranked highest overall was “my personal safety”, with an average of 8.2 on a 0 to 10 scale. Strikingly, this was the either the highest or joint-highest ranking response for men and women, White and BAME Londoners, homeowners, renters, and all age groups from 25 to 64. (For 18- to 24-year-olds, “my mental and physical health” was marginally higher, and for those 65 and over it was “protection from future pandemics”.) Although their comparative rankings were the same, the average score given for personal safety was higher for women than for men – perhaps reflecting concerns about gender-based harassment and violence given that the poll was taken shortly after the murder of Londoner Sarah Everard. We lack time-series comparison data for this question, so it is hard to say how responses have changed, but it seems likely that the coronavirus pandemic has increased Londoners’ concerns about safety. This is reflected in the vision for the city set out in the early part of this report, with its focus on protections. As individuals and as a society, we cannot function at our best when we are frightened, so helping people feel safe is at the core of what we need from our city.
For most groups, concerns about mental and physical health were equal or similar to concerns about safety. There was more variation in concern from people about their housing situation: unsurprisingly, this was higher for renters and for people whose employment status had worsened because of coronavirus. By age group, concern peaked among 35- to 44-year-olds. Other research has suggested that younger cohorts find housing the hardest to afford – but it may be that this slightly older group are more likely to be parents, and so to be concerned about both space and security of tenure for their young families.
What Londoners think is important for other Londoners: housing concerns
We next asked our respondents to rate priorities for everyone in London, from a similar list (see chart below). Once again, improving safety and security and protecting from future pandemics were near the top. Making housing more affordable was joint-second overall. Perhaps surprisingly, the average score for this issue was highest among Londoners over 65 and lowest for those under 25: despite the clichés of a gulf in understanding and concern between generations, older Londoners seem to be more concerned on average about other people’s housing than their own. When we asked people to write in their own responses to the question “What one thing would you change about London if you could?”, the most frequent answers were about the amount or cost of housing. Similarly, while concern about one’s own job or career was (unsurprisingly) highest among those aged 25 to 44 and very low for people over 65, “boosting economic growth and job opportunities” for all Londoners scored highest among people over 65.
Air pollution and climate
All of our closed-response questions included options around environment and climate. In very broad terms, Londoners ranked them mid-table – neither amongst the highest, nor the lowest of priorities. It is important to note, however, that polling took place before both the recent IPCC report on climate change, and the heatwaves, fires and floods of summer 2021.
As individual priorities, “reducing my greenhouse gas emissions” was scored the same as “reducing my contribution to air pollution” (both averaged 6.7 out of 10). There was no clear pattern in responses by age, social class, or ethnicity, but women were more likely to be concerned about both issues than men. When thinking about priorities for the whole city, both issues were rated a little higher: 7.5 for air pollution and 7.2 for greenhouse gas emissions. Both of these were ranked highest by people aged 65 and over.
When we asked people to select only their top priorities for London, one quarter chose air pollution and 19 per cent chose climate change. This question also revealed some variations across different groups in the relative priority given to the two issues: men were more likely to select air quality than women, and women were more likely to select climate change than men. Similarly, those in the oldest age group were more likely to select air quality than those in the youngest age group, but less likely to select climate change. This perhaps shows the need to emphasise both topics when building public support for changes to transport and domestic heating.
Highest priorities vary for different groups
Having asked Londoners to give overall scores for how important different issues are, we then asked them for up to five “top priorities for the capital” from a fixed list. In general, forcing respondents to prioritise in this way creates more of a difference between groups – there is a broad consensus about which issues are seen as important, but more diversity in which issues are held to be the most important, with no single topic picked by more than 34 per cent of respondents. The top three issues for the overall sample across all respondents were “creating jobs and employment”, “safety on the streets” and “tackling homelessness”, all chosen by around one-third of those we surveyed, followed by health (in various aspects), coronavirus recovery and air quality. Women were more likely to put safety in their top three (37 per cent vs 32 per cent), and men were more likely to include transport (all three transport options were chosen more often by men than by women).
On this question, there were notable differences between responses from White and BAME Londoners. (We understand that describing such a large and diverse group of Londoners as “BAME” is reductive and over-simplified, but our polling data does not allow us to make statements about individual non-White ethnic groups with any statistical confidence, so we have chosen to report this data while understanding that it is imperfect). Compared to White Londoners, BAME Londoners were more likely to put “reducing discrimination and unfairness” in their top priorities (30 per cent vs 15 per cent) and also to include “improving transport” (18 per cent vs 13 per cent). White Londoners were more likely to choose “reducing the number of cars and vans on the road” (13 per cent vs 6 per cent) and “improving safety on the streets” (37 per cent vs 30 per cent).
What matters less?
When we ask Londoners what matters more to them, we are – implicitly at least – also asking what matters less. Sometimes this is about personal circumstances: for instance, “enjoying London’s culture and nightlife” was the lowest-ranked individual priority across all groups, and lower for older Londoners than for younger ones. Looking at priorities for the city as a whole, the low rankings of some options seem to reflect respondents not seeing a particular problem. For example, the infrastructure topics of “improving broadband provision” and “London’s connections with other cities” ranked fairly low, selected as part of their top five priorities by just four and six per cent of respondents respectively.
The two options about political change in London – “reducing government regulation” and “revitalising democracy in London” – were similarly popular, chosen as part of their top five by six and seven per cent of respondents respectively. London governance is much discussed by policymakers, but it does not seem to have a great deal of salience among Londoners at the moment. Despite this overall low ranking, there were differences between the groups who selected the two governance options. Around 1 in 12 people from social grade C2 (skilled manual roles) selected the reducing regulations option, compared to around 1 in 20 from social grade AB (professional and managerial roles). People aged between 16 and 34 were around twice as likely to select the “revitalising democracy” option than people over 65.
Your Future London – a new exploration of Londoners’ priorities
We also gathered feedback from Londoners using Your Future London, an experimental website developed specifically for this project. Users were presented with information about the city and asked to choose between about pairs of future options for the city, for example eliminating homelessness in London, or lower taxes for Londoners. Around 1200 people used the website, but because it was promoted by Centre for London and our partners rather than sent to a pre-defined sample, the results are not necessarily representative of London’s population as a whole. Broadly, users of the tool were more likely to be female, more likely to live in inner London, and younger than the adult London population as a whole. More information is available in the Appendix, or you can visit it online at futures.centreforlondon.org.
The results for all users are shown below, with larger squares indicating stronger preferences. “Homelessness eliminated” was the most preferred option, followed by “more affordable homes”; cleaner air and reduced racism and discrimination were also seen as important.
While statements about health and personal safety scored fairly highly, they ranked a little lower than in the polling results. This may reflect three differences. First, the timing of the work. Your Future London ran over winter and spring 2021, finishing before the poll was in the field. Second, the profile of the respondents. And third, the nature of the engagement: users were invited to view information about the challenges facing London before they took part, which may have shifted their focus from issues that currently affect them to ones that do not.
We linked the statements in Your Future London to the future scenarios we developed in London at a Crossroads – which in turn were built from pairs of values in our initial framework for the project. This allowed us to compare broader expressions of values and possible futures for our city. When we broke them down in this way, the strongest values expressed through people’s preferences were environmental sustainability and fairness, followed by quality of places and amenities. These related most closely to the “Levelled up London” and “15-minute London” scenarios, although there was some support for all five scenarios we developed.