Brexit: The more educated a city's population, the less likely it was to vote Leave

Oh. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

There are many reasons why someone might have voted for Britain to leave the European Union. Belief in national sovereignty; concerns about immigration; straight up racism.

There are reasons to think, though, the one of the big ones – this is going to be controversial, but it does seem to be true – might be lack of education.

[Brief pause, while I delete my email address from the "contact us" page and build a bunker of some sort.]

Okay, that's not entirely fair. For one thing, we're looking at aggregated, city-wide data here. Cities with (spoilers) more educated populations were less likely to vote leave – but that tells us nothing about the individuals within them.

For another – say it with me – correlation is not causation. The fact that more educated cities were full of remain voters might be because of some entirely unrelated factor, to do with culture or economics or something else I haven't even thought of.

Those caveats out of the way, though, the results on this as pretty clear cut. Here's an interactive map showing the proportion of working-age residents in each city that have NVQ4 level qualifications or above (graduates, basically). Darker dots mean higher numbers:

That doesn't immediately look like any obvious pattern. But look at the cities which make the top 10:

That’s two university cities, Oxford and Cambridge; three Scottish ones (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow); Bristol, Cardiff, London, and a couple of the capital's plush commuter towns (Reading and Brighton).

Now look at this chart we published on Monday, showing which cities had the highest votes for Remain. The two aren't directly comparable – ours uses local authority boundaries, not (larger) Primary Urban areas, and we covered fewer cities.

Nonetheless:

This time, the top 10 includes Oxford and Cambridge; three Scottish cities (Edinbrugh, Aberdeen, Glasgow); Bristol, Cardiff, London and Brighton. Nine cities are in the top 10 on both lists.

(The only substitution, incidentally, is that we've lost Reading for Manchester. My guess is that's because the Manchester local authority has a quite different profile to the Manchester PUA, which includes 10 boroughs instead of one. But I'm guessing.)

Here's a scatter graph, plotting graduate population against Remain vote in the 29 cities that are in both data-sets. Once again, it's worth remembering that these are using quite different boundaries, something you'd expect to have an impact on any correlation.

And yet:

That is a correlation co-efficient of 0.84. Which is really, really high. Even though it's different boundaries, and so yada yada yada.

There could be other factors at work here, and Paul Swinney, the chief economist at the Centre for Cities, has been trying to work out what they might be. (His charts use the "leave", rather than "remain", vote so the correlation runs the other way. Also, where a point is on 0 per cent, that's a lack of data, not a city with no graduates whatsoever or some such.)

Here's Pauls chart plotting graduate populations against the leave vote:

This one is residents without five good GCSEs (the closest we have to a sort of school leaving certificate):

This one is residents in skilled manual occupations:

Lastly, one that's rather less clear, plotting wages against leave vote:

So – income wasn't a huge factor. But education level and type of occupation  were pretty clearly factors in how people voted last Thursday.

Or, to put it another way, it seems a lot like less educated people were more likely to vote Leave.

Please don't write in.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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This election is our chance to treat housing as a right – but only if we listen to tenants

The Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster, London. Image: Getty.

“You’re joking, not another one... there’s too much politics going on at the moment..!”

Brenda of Bristol’s televised comments in 2017, when told that another election was to take place, could just as well have been uttered when MPs voted to call a general election for 12 December this year. 

Almost immediately the politicking began. “A chance to transform our country”. “An opportunity to stop Brexit/get Brexit done”. ‘We can end austerity and inequality.” “A new revitalised parliament.” “Another referendum.”

Yet dig behind the language of electioneering and, for the first time that I can recall, there is mention of solving the housing crisis by all the major parties. I can welcome another election, if the result is a determination to build enough homes to meet everyone’s needs and everyone’s pocket.

That will require those who come to power to recognise that our housing system has never been fit for purpose. It has never matched the needs of the nation. It is not an accident that homelessness is increasing; not an accident that families are living in overcrowded accommodation or temporary accommodation, sometimes for years; not an accident that rents are going up and the opportunities to buy property are going down. It is not an accident that social housing stock continues to be sold off. These are the direct result of policy decisions by successive governments.

So with all the major parties stating their good intentions to build more homes, how do we ensure their determination results in enough homes of quality where people want to live, work and play? By insisting that current and prospective tenants are involved in the planning and decision making process from the start.

“Involved” is the key word. When we build new homes and alter the environment we must engage with the local community and prospective tenants. It is their homes and their communities we are impacting – they need to be involved in shaping their lived space. That means involvement before the bull-dozer moves in; involvement at thinking and solution finding stages, and with architects and contractors. It is not enough to ask tenants and community members for their views on plans and proposals which have already been agreed by the board or the development committee of some distant housing provider.


As more homes for social and affordable rent become a reality, we need tenants to be partners at the table deciding on where, how and why they should be built there, from that material, and with those facilities. We need them to have an effective voice in decision making. This means working together with tenants and community members to create good quality homes in inclusive and imaginatively designed environments.

I am a tenant of Phoenix Community Housing, a social housing provider. I am also the current Chair and one of six residents on the board of twelve. Phoenix is resident led with tenants embedded throughout the organisation as active members of committees and onto policy writing and scrutiny.

Tenants are part of the decision making process as we build to meet the needs of the community. Our recently completed award-winning extra care scheme has helped older people downsize and released larger under-occupied properties for families.

By being resident led, we can be community driven. Our venture into building is small scale at the moment, but we are building quality homes that residents want and are appropriate to their needs. Our newest development is being built to Passivhaus standard, meaning they are not only more affordable but they are sustainable for future generations.

There are a few resident led organisations throughout the country. We don’t have all the answers to the housing situation, nor do we get everything right first time. We do know how to listen, learn and act.

The shocking events after the last election, when disaster came to Grenfell Tower, should remind us that tenants have the knowledge and ability to work with housing providers for the benefit of all in the community – if we listen to them and involve them and act on their input.

This election is an opportunity for those of us who see appropriate housing as a right; housing as a lived space in which to thrive and build community; housing as home not commodity – to hold our MPs to account and challenge them to outline their proposals and guarantee good quality housing, not only for the most vulnerable but for people generally, and with tenants fully involved from the start.

Anne McGurk is a tenant and chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s only major resident-led housing association.