This is a manifesto for London’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is focused on short to medium term measures to aid the capital’s recovery from its worst shock since World War Two. It draws on a wide range of sources, including a series of webinars that we organised in response to the virus, our regular survey of London data and polling of Londoners (The London Intelligence) 1 and several ongoing research projects.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit London hard. Initial outbreaks of the virus were concentrated in the capital, the government-mandated shutdown saw the city’s streets become eerily vacant, and they remained underpopulated through the summer. As summer gives way to winter and the huge economic impact of the pandemic begins to become clear, London faces both new challenges arising from the crisis, and existing challenges that have been intensified and made more urgent by it.
The impact to date
Different sectors of London’s economy have had very different experiences during the crisis. 30 per cent of London jobs
2 are in ‘knowledge economy’ services
such as finance and insurance, professional services, information and communications, all of which have weathered this phase of the crisis well, with many employees working from home. However a further quarter of London workers are in sectors such as hospitality, arts and leisure, and retail, which depend principally on physical connection, and remain shut down in many parts of the city, presenting a looming threat of job losses as the furlough scheme ends. 3
The polarised effect of the crisis on different economic sectors has had knock-on effects on different people. The sectors that have been worst affected have generally been those that offer lower paid and less secure employment in the capital. Alongside health and social care, they are also the sectors that employ the highest proportions of Black and minority ethnic workers 4 (while the least affected sectors have the smallest proportions of workers from these communities). And while men have been harder hit by the symptoms of the disease, women have taken on the burden of childcare 5 work during lockdown and are more likely to have been furloughed or lost their job.
The impact is also likely to be felt differently in different parts of the city. While central London has been deserted, some outer London centres
3 have seen a growth in expenditure, as more people work from home and spend more money locally. The summer only brought limited life back to the centre, in part because of continuing physical restrictions on public transport and international travel, in part because of social distancing policies make it hard for some businesses to operate, and in part because people are simply wary of the risks that physical contact
and proximity bring. Polling undertaken for Centre for London in early May showed Londoners more inclined to work from home and shop locally after lockdown, and less inclined to travel into central London for work or leisure. People seem to have been slower coming back to central London than they have been returning to other major global cities. 7
The pandemic has been met by a strong displays of community solidarity. There are more than 4,600 local mutual aid groups registered on the COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK website. 8 Around two million people have joined local support networks on Facebook, and the number of daily users of Nextdoor platform has risen by 90 per cent. 9 Confined to small homes for the most of day, Londoners became much more sensitive to the value of parks, safe and quiet streets, and local shops. While use of food banks has gone up dramatically, so, it seems, has use of independent neighbourhood shops.
What we don’t know
There is still a great deal we do not know – the pattern and impact of future outbreaks of infection, how soon a vaccine or effective treatment may be found, whether people will remain cautious about living, working and socialising in cities, when business and leisure travel will resume, whether there will be a rapid economic recovery or a prolonged slump.
There are also unanswered questions about the long term impacts on different people and places. Central London is diverse and adaptable, but the longer people stay away, the greater the risk that damage will become permanent, which could in turn threaten the capital’s pre-eminence as a centre for global tourism and highpaying professional services. Similarly, we do not know how high unemployment will rise and which workers will be most affected. However, given the current patterns of furlough, the longer-term economic problems faced in high street retail and hospitality, and the mounting toll of closures announced to date, it is likely to be workers in lowerpaid sectors who lose their jobs.
This could worsen economic inequality in London and in particular deepen the racial inequalities that already skew the labour market (unemployment, for example, is three times higher for Black men than White men). Younger people also face a higher risk of unemployment: around 25 per cent of 18-24 year olds in employment had been furloughed in early May, 10 and a further nine per cent had lost their jobs (compared to 15 per cent and three per cent across the whole workforce). Alongside the inherent injustice of these inequalities, widening them could undermine social cohesion and damage productivity by wasting the talents of London’s workers.