Want to buy the average London home? Save more than the average salary every month

Don't waste money on food, you idiot! Image: Getty.

Good morning, Londoners! Isn’t it a lovely day? The sun is out, the air is crisp, Donald Trump hasn’t tweeted for hours and there are the first, tiny hints of spring in the air.

Yeah, well, don’t get too excited, because you’re still utterly fucked.

I mean, obviously that’s always true these days (Trump may not have tweeted yet, but he will; oh, he will). But on this occasion, the specific thing by which you are fucked is our old nemesis, the London housing market.

Let’s turn to the National Housing Federation’s Home Truths report to find out why:

House prices have become so expensive in the capital that buyers hoping to save for a typical deposit over the next four years will need to scrape together at least a staggering £2,300 every month, a new report from the National Housing Federation reveals today.

It might take you a couple of goes to take that one in, so let’s hear it again:

House prices have become so expensive in the capital that buyers hoping to save for a typical deposit over the next four years will need to scrape together at least a staggering £2,300 every month, a new report from the National Housing Federation reveals today.

Still not getting it? Let’s try focusing in on the important bit:

£2,300 every month

Oh. That’s... well, that’s quite a lot really, isn’t it?

Put it this way. The median London salary – the amount earned by the Londoner in the middle of the income distribution – was, as of April 2016, £671 per week, which is just shy of £35,000 a year. Earn that, and you receive a take home pay packet of around £2,241 a month.

So if you, as an average Londoner, save every penny you make – live on a friend’s sofa, walk to work, steal your food, never go out – you will still, at the end of the year, be around £720 short of your savings target. (This is assuming that you don’t have any student debt which, of course, you do.)

Or to put it another way: to save the money requried to buy the average London home, you need to earn more than the average London salary and not spend any of it.

Lazy millennials, blowing all their money on iPods and flat whites instead of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps like what we did. Why can’t they just work harder and stop whining?

The face of the enemy.

And get a bloody pension! Don’t want to be a burden on society do you?

Now, there are all sorts of ways in which we can fisk this one. The NHF represents housing associations: it thus has an interest in talking up the housing crisis, in an attempt to get its members more powers and freedom to address it.

The 2021 deadline is pretty arbitrary. So is the idea that first time buyers would buy as singletons rather than couples. Perhaps the biggest hole of all is the idea that they would buy “the average London home”, now worth (gulp) £563,041, rather than – as is more likely – a shoebox in a shitty area because goddamn it it’s a foot on the ladder isn’t it.

So, no. To become a first-time buyer in London, you do not literally need to be saving £2,300 a month. And to become a first-time buyer you don’t need to do it in London.

Nonetheless the fact that you can get to such a figure, even through some reductio ad absurdum fag packet maths, highlights quite how ludicrous the London housing market has become. It should not be possible, through any conventional mathematics, to come to the conclusion that you need to save more than the average income every month to have a hope of housing security in this or any other city.

Here are some other figures from the Home Truths Report which inspire much the same sort of rage:

  • To buy that average home, under current mortgage rules, you’d need a 20 per cent deposit of around £113,000;
  • Not to mention a household income of £130,000 a year;
  • The cheapest borough in the capital is Barking & Dagenham, where the mean house price is £254,183. That’s 10.1 times the average salary in the borough, or “a whole salary more than any bank is likely to lend to a couple as a mortgage”;
  • The most expensive is Kensington & Chelsea, where the average house price is now less than £40,000 off £2m. Not that it matters, really, but that’s 34.8 times the average salary in the area;
  • The rental value of the average property is now £1,727, which is 61 per cent of the average salary. Which is probably one of the reasons why...
  • Over a third of those claiming housing benefit in London are in work – because their income isn’t high enough to cover their rent.

So, to sum up, we’re all doomed.


Never mind, President Trump will be up and about soon, at which point the complete absence of long-time financial security for Londoners won’t seem like such a big problem in the scheme of things.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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Handing power to cities could help government make better policy

Research scientists prepare a batch of Malaria vaccine in 2007. Image: Getty.

How do good ideas become reality? Solutions to complex problems do not come quickly. It takes an average of 10 years to take a vaccine from pre-clinical study to implementation, without counting years of basic research. Malaria, discovered in 1880, still has no effective vaccine. 

Political solutions are just as unpredictable. Fourteen years after the discovery of the Ozone Hole, the Montreal Protocol came into force to ban CFCs – yet, the government thinks it could take over 50 years to tackle air pollution by phasing out diesel cars. Many of the UK’s most endemic problems like flat-lining productivity seem destined to plague us for eternity. 

Solutions also unravel quickly, it took New Labour five years to reduce the number of rough-sleepers in England from 2,000 to under 500, but only six years for the Tories to let it shoot up to 4000 again.

A timeline of vaccine development. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

It is no wonder good policy is rare and slow. Policy need political and public buy-in, sustainable financing, monitoring and tweaking, and flexibility to adapt to changing environments and technology. 

There are places that appear to do policy better. Scandinavia balance a progressive welfare state with high taxation and public confidence. Likewise New Zealand, despite having one of the shortest democratic cycles in the developed world, manages to far exceed the living standards and prosperity of many western countries. What links them?

  • Population: Sweden has a population just shy of 10m. None of the other Scandinavian countries, nor New Zealand, top 5.6m. Fewer people makes it easier to put policies in place. They require less administration, less resource and shorter consultation periods.
  • Culture: Largely they are culturally homogeneous. Many studies show people feel more comfortable with state intervention, or redistribution, that helps people like them. New Zealand’s recognition of their bi-culture has a similar basis. 
  • Strong Executives: The New Zealand treasury maintains a core focus on living standards, providing checks and balances on a short-term political cycle that still allows for long-term prosperity growth. It’s something that evolves independent of National or Labour governments, recently bringing measures of wellbeing into their policy analysis. 

So can the UK replicate Finland’s start-up culture, or Sweden’s gender equality? How can Spain learn from Ireland’s reduction in unemployment, or Italy from Iceland’s banking recovery?

The answer lies in cities. Testing policy on their smaller populations, or areas can replicate the agility of smaller innovative countries. Testing also helps mitigate mistakes. Failure is magnified when policy is centralised and at scale. If cities or regions can prove policies work they can also act as a brake for those that don’t.

Take Universal Basic Income. In January 2017, 10 per cent of the Finnish unemployed population were contacted by their national welfare body to take part in a study on how a flat universal payment over traditional welfare payments affects job incentives. It’s telling that the study designers are worried about the small sample size, and statistical robustness not media reactions. Similar studies on different populations are underway in Utrecht and Kenya:  why couldn’t one by done in Edinburgh or Belfast?

The graduated process of pilots means governments can overcome the stumbling blocks of policymaking, be transparent about both the upsides and downsides of new policies, and give civil society or businesses opportunity to prepare for them. Matthew Taylor has spoken of how important this will be for any progress towards a Universal Basic Income in the UK.


Piloting will mean being willing to say when things don’t work. Universal credit was rightly trailed in London Boroughs like Hounslow, before nationwide roll-out – but evidence showed it led to food shortages and evictions. Instead of learning where the policy was failing, the Conservatives doubled down and centralised further. 

Cities will need more power to help the rest of the country. If London could model the effects of changing council tax boundaries, or new taxes on undeveloped land, many more could benefit from the evidence. But City Hall will need to be aware of the local dynamics behind outcomes. Lessons learnt in Chiswick might not apply in Chester: establishing the causes of success of failure will be vital. 

Testing policies in smaller areas also needs an effective mechanism over the top for sharing and spreading ideas. I’ve argued before how a more federal UK could help this. Long-delays to roll out ideas to other towns and cities could cause resentment and increase regional inequality.

Similarly good policy should flow as easily in countries as between them. Fora like the OECD have a role here, as do the C40. Networks of think-tanks and political grouping are also important but need greater involvement from those in power and not just activists or oppositions.

Pilots cannot be used as an excuse for those above the city level not to make decisions. Endlessly delaying roll-outs for more studies is a stalling mechanism that helps no-one. Access to 5G technology — now as important a service as water or gas — for example cannot be left to cities alone.

As well as their size cities have bountiful qualities to be at the forefront of policy research.

  • World-class Universities: Policies, like vaccine research also needs underlying basic research on problems to inform strategies further down the line. This means greater government-academic collaboration as policymakers have always championed between universities and industry.
  • Cultural Diversity: Policy development tends to be dominated by one style of thinking. Although it is improving, think-tankers, civil servants and political staffers tend to come from similar backgrounds and career paths. More artists, designers or scientists in policy-making could improve the willingness to test, learn, tweak and re-test: prototypes and beta versions just don’t appear in politics. Cities are full of innovators. 
  • Tech-Savvy: Policy testing gets harder as individuals become more and more connected. How do you isolate a section of the internet or the Internet of Things? The challenge is that it also becomes increasingly important, the use of AI in public services, driverless vehicles, and other emerging technologies will all need to be assessed rigorously and designed with pubic confidence and engagement at the heart of them. The concentration of knowledge in cities make them the perfect place to test digital tech for the rest of the country. 

Even in a world as changeable as 2017 there is still room in cities for experimentation.