The London exodus is coming

New research has found that Gen Z and young millennials are planning to leave the capital post-pandemic.

by Roisin Lanigan
09 February 2021, 9:12am

The global pandemic has normalised working remotely, and it’s changed the fabric of London as we know it. Last week, figures from the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence showed that the capital had experienced an unprecedented exodus of people, with nearly 700,000 (just under 10% of London’s population) fleeing the city in 2020. And even with light beginning to peek through the end of the tunnel with the global vaccine rollout, it doesn’t look like we’re ready to fully leave behind our new normal just yet — at least when it comes to work-life balance.

New research released today from insurtech company Urban Jungle — a company which provides home and contents insurance to renters and those in shared accommodation — has revealed that most young Londoners would rather live somewhere else. In a survey of 1,022 young people living in the city, 55% of 18-34 year olds said they would like to leave the capital after the pandemic, and are already considering living elsewhere.

Perhaps it’s being locked inside an extremely busy, industrial city for months on end (it is), but almost one fifth of those surveyed in the study said they wanted to live somewhere greener and with more space, favouring a more bucolic, cottagecore fantasy in the countryside or a small village over London. Only eight percent of respondents said they’d like to leave to go live in a different city, while nine percent said they’d like to travel.

The London exodus isn’t surprising when you compare the rental market in the capital to pretty much anywhere else in the UK or further afield. And with no amenities, experiences or excitement to distract us during lockdown, it’s become much harder to justify paying exorbitant rents to rich landlords for cramp, damp and otherwise horrible spaces. “People rent in London so they can work and enjoy an exciting life. But if you’re stuck in a flat or shared house working from home, paying high rent, then it’s an expensive, possibly not very enjoyable, experience,” said Urban Jungle’s CEO Jimmy Williams.

“A lot of our customers have made the decision to find other places to live,” he added. “Some have gone to other cities, but many seem to have chosen quieter and more rural locations. There are likely to be a few drivers here. Some will have gone back to live with mum and dad. Some have chosen cheaper places to live. It also seems that rural locations can be appealing if you’re able to work from home.”

The data is just the latest piece of evidence pointing to an impending London exodus as the pandemic goes on. In addition to Urban Jungle’s data, a recent report by PwC predicted that London’s population is due to decline this year, marking the first time it’s done so in a century. Publishing the results of their UK Economic Update, the firm put London’s exodus down to a combination of Covid-19 and reduced EU migration post-Brexit (1.3 million EU residents have left the UK since 2019). “Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the way we view cities,” the report states. “We anticipate that in 2021, a shift away from city-living is likely to both increase the number of people moving out of the capital, and decrease the number of people moving in.”

Today’s findings from Urban Jungle reflects much of the same. During March to December last year they saw a 149% increase in customers changing their address from London to another city, and a 73% increase in people moving from big cities to towns and rural areas.

“A lot of indicators suggest that London’s population is going to decline,” Jimmy Williams continues. “I think we’ve taken renters for granted for a long time and assumed they’d always stay. However, renters have always had flexibility to move if they want to. Now, they are using that flexibility, and landlords might wish it wasn’t so easy for them to leave. They may have a lot more problems filling vacancies post-pandemic. Also, for employers in the capital there are big questions on how easy it will be to persuade employees back to the office.”

Ultimately, we don’t know how the world of work will look post-pandemic, and whether employers will continue to embrace further flexibility on remote-working. But whatever happens, if a London exodus means that the vampiric landlords who suck the city dry are negatively affected in some way — spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and, hopefully, financially — then we are at least a little bit happier today.

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