London's growing inequality, mapped

Social housing in Southwark; the Shard. Image: Getty.

So here's some depressing, if unsurprising, news to start the week: according to new analysis of census data, London is vastly more unequal now than it was in the 1980s.

New research from LondonMapper, a project run by the University of Oxford and funded by the Trust for London, shows that the proportions of "poor" and "wealthy" households have each increased by 80 per cent in the city over the last 30 years. Over the same period, the proportion of middle-income houses has dropped by 43 per cent.

Here's the ratio between the three types of households in 1980 and then in 2010:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

It's not just London, either: the same effect is taking hold across England, although elsewhere the change is a little less dramatic. Over the last three decades, the proportions of poor and wealthy households have increased by 60 per cent and 33 per cent apiece across the country, while the share of middle-income households has dropped by 27 per cent:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

It's worth noting that the number of poor households quoted is probably an underestimate: the researchers used calculations released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2007, before the financial crash and the current round of public spending cuts. 

The team also created maps showing where the changes are occurring, within London and across England. The researchers have used distortion maps to demonstrate this: the bigger the region is shown, the bigger the change it's undergone. On some of the graphics this means that larger areas have seen a larger increase; on others, it means a larger decline. 

These ones show the rise in poor and wealthy households, and the fall in middle-income households:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

As you can see, the disappearance of middle households is overwhelmingly in London, where polarisation is most dramatic.

They also broke down the stats to borough level. First, a reference map showing London's boroughs re-sized according to their number of households:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

The increase in wealthy households has mainly occurred in central and west London, with the largest increase in Richmond (32 per cent):

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

While the increase in poor households is concentrated in the east:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

The largest poverty rise was in Newham, where researchers estimated that almost one in two households are now classified as poor. 

The proportion of households classified as middle-income dropped by most in the outer boroughs: 


Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

You can see more of the data, including figures for 2000, using LondonMapper's interactive tool here


Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.