What does the data say about London’s prospects for prosperity?

Look! Some data! Image: Getty.

Can you assess the prosperity and performance of a global city when there is so much going on at once? How do you reflect this complexity and balance a range of indicators, capturing aspects of the city that might be missed in more traditional, one-dimensional analyses?

We are trying to do this at Centre for London with our new quarterly publication, The London Intelligence, which provides a regular picture of London’s performance across a range of indicators.

We are still reviewing the lessons learned from our first edition, which came out in July. We found no shortage of data, but bringing it together with the careful analysis that creates intelligence was a more complex matter – as shown in the examples below.

Immigration to London: National Insurance Number Registrations

One frequent measure of immigration is the number of overseas nationals registering for National Insurance numbers (NINos), which they need to work or claim benefits in the UK. As a full administrative data set, these tell us information about people coming to London, including their nationality and place of application.

There is some quarterly variation, but data shows a 15 per cent reduction in the number of registrations from January to March this year, compared to 2016. Most of this fall came from EU citizens, perhaps signalling a worrying fallout from Brexit.

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Some nuances in interpretation exist, however. The quarter does not necessarily reflect when an individual arrives in the UK – the figures above probably demonstrate a lag effect.

While the numbers reflect international migration, they do not paint a complete picture: not accounting for people coming for other purposes (such as students), and not saying anything about length of stay, or if they have left. For example, we showed a drop-off in Europeans arriving; Europeans may be leaving in even greater numbers, but these data would not show that.

So while this decline is worrying, it is not necessarily significant in isolation – using future releases combined with other datasets, it will give more insight.

Young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs)

There are many economic indicators available – the publication includes eight – but here we discuss NEET rates, because it provides an indication of inclusiveness of London’s labour market.

According to the data, outcomes of young people in London have been improving recently, reaching a record low of 8.6 per cent. The observed seasonality results from school/university leavers, giving spikes in each third quarter.

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However, data on young people at the margin of London’s labour market is relatively poor. NEET estimates come mainly from surveys compiled by the Department for Education – meaning there are margins of error to each estimate. Therefore, while London’s rate may appear lower than the England rate in the most recent quarter, we cannot say for certain this is the case.

Further, evidence suggests the survey misses up to a quarter of youngsters in the capital, whose status is declared ‘unknown’, and so London’s young people may not be doing as well as suggested.

House Prices

National house price changes are often quoted in the media, but this belies layers of complexity. In the publication, we use mean house prices using Land Registry data on housing transactions, which acts as a headline indicator for London’s housing market (and a wider acid-test of the economy).

The data can be tracked over time and space in London. Borough-level analysis reveals distinct patterns over the year to April: outer boroughs are largely experiencing strong growth, while inner east boroughs in particular are cooling off.

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There are some limitations to be aware of. At borough level, prices are not mix or seasonally adjusted, and with small volumes of transactions, comparisons can be difficult – average (mean rather than median) prices tend to jump around a little each month dependent on the properties sold. Further, not all transactions are registered immediately, so readjustments (mostly small) happen in the medium term.

The borough data is useful for a spatial interpretation of trends, but does not give significant insight into the performance of different housing sub-markets, which often have divergent trends. Even within boroughs, different areas may be seeing dramatic differences in property market performance.


Looking at datasets in conjunction can be a powerful tool, especially when limitations are acknowledged, and numbers are explained and given meaning. It can provide a holistic and accessible, rather than parochial and specialist, view into our rapidly changing city, as the uncertainties of Brexit start to bite.

Tom Colthorpe is a researcher at Centre for London. You can learn more about the London Intelligence, and get your copy, here.

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.