The geography of poverty in London is changing. This is how – and why

An aerial view of south west London. Image: Getty.

Few would deny that London has changed tremendously since the turn of the century. Accounts of gentrification and “social cleansing” have built a story of London turning into a playground for the global elite, at the exclusion of poorer households.

This narrative however misses most of why and how London’s poverty is changing. New research by Centre for London shows that London’s geography of poverty and wealth has turned inside out: inner London is home to wealthier, more skilled residents than ten years ago, while outer London boroughs are poorer than they used to be.

These changes take place against the background of population change. Between 2001 and 2009, 3.8m people arrived in London, while 3.4m left the city.

Higher-skilled residents have moved into east London, where poverty rates have fallen the most. At the same time, outer London boroughs now house the majority of the capital’s lower-skilled people – because the less well-connected parts of outer London are the only areas where new Londoners on low incomes can afford to move into.

But whilst inner and outer London have converged, there is evidence of greater contrast at neighbourhood levels. The best examples are the London boroughs of Hackney and Barnet, where the biggest change in poverty and skilled population took place. The maps below show how each neighbourhood of Hackney and Barnet changed its national rank of deprivation between 2010 and 2015. Blue means that a neighbourhood is moving out of deprivation at a faster rate than the rest of England; red the opposite.

Hackney comes up blue overall, meaning that, in most parts of the borough, rates of deprivation decreased much faster than in than the rest of England. However, the areas in white show that large chunks of the borough that did not fare as well.

Homerton, orange on the map, fared even worse than the rest of the country, despite the billions of pounds poured onto the nearby Olympic Park. Improvements in deprivation have been patchy, because the influx of wealthier residents happened alongside persisting deprivation among children and old people, for which Hackney still ranks respectively 10th and 3rd worse in the country. 

Rank of deprivation change, 2010-15. Source: DCLG, Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 and 2015. Mapping by Consumer Data Research Centre.

Contrary to Hackney, leafy Barnet saw a marked increase in poverty rates since 2001, linked to a fall in the proportion of skilled residents. This increase in deprivation is visible on the map: many of Barnet’s neighbourhoods fared worse than the rest of England, and much worse than the rest of London.

Rank of deprivation change, 2010-15. Source: DCLG, Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 and 2015. Mapping by Consumer Data Research Centre.

But this rise in deprivation was not uniform: it got relatively worse in Edgware, Golders Green and Friern Barnet, while in close-by East Finchley and Hendon, deprivation improved faster than in the rest of the country.

Our research has shown that the paradigm of inner London being poorer and lower-skilled than outer London no longer holds. Cheaper outer London has replaced inner London as the point of arrival for low-income Londoners coming from the UK and abroad.

But rather than gentrified or impoverished, London boroughs are now housing wealthier and poorer households in adjacent neighbourhoods.

You can read the Centre for London’s “Inside Out” report here.

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Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit citymonitor.ai to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.