People don’t leave London at the rate they once did

Housing: we need more of it. Image: Getty Images.

The Office for National Statistics just published its latest (deep breath) statistical bulletin on "Internal Migration, England & Wales, Year Ending June 2013". It produces this document every year.

These things don’t exactly make great beach reads – but squint at them the right way, and you’ll find some pretty interesting insights. Much of the best stuff concerns how London relates to the rest of the UK. Consider.

You can see the story of a life in the times when people move.

Look at this chart, from last year’s document. It shows the percentage of people who move to a new local authority area at each age, from zero to 90+.

There's a small spike in early childhood, as young parents move so their offspring can have more space and/or get on the list for the right schools. Then things are pretty stable right through adolescence, until a much bigger spike, showing more than a fifth of 19 year olds switch locations – heading mostly, one assumes, to university.

There's another mini-spike at 22, as people start their careers, but then people gradually become less and less likely to move until, by middle age they’re overwhelmingly likely to stay put in a given area. That only changes at the end of life, presumably when frailty forces the elderly to move to care homes or to be near family. It's the circle of life.

London's population flows outwards.

The next two graphs show internal net migration - that is, the difference between the number of arrivals and the number of departures - from each region to the rest of England & Wales. Positive numbers mean more people are arriving; negative ones mean more people are departing.

And, as it turns out, the net migration out of London is by far the biggest figure. That's true, both in absolute numbers...

...and relative to population size. This is net interal migration, per thousand population:

But the rate at which that's happening has actually fallen.

In the year to June 2013, London’s net migration to the rest of England and Wales stood at around 55,000. But, according to figures from the city’s authorities, in 2006-7, the net outflow stood at 80,300; five years before that, it was 97,100. Look at this chart, showing arrivals, departures and the difference between them:

Over the last decade total number of those leaving has risen; but the number of those arriving has risen more. 

And London's population is still growing.

In the year to mid-2012, in fact, it increased by 1.3%, to 8.3 million. Partly this is because London is the main destination for international migrants to the UK (nearly two in five Londoners were born overseas); partly, it's a baby thing. London's birth rate in 2012 stood at 16.2 births per thousand people. In England and Wales as a whole, it was just 12.9.

At any rate, the net result of all this is that, after shrinking in the second half of the 20th century, London will soon be bigger than at any time since before the Blitz. This population increase is almost certainly one factor behind the city’s house price boom: we're just not building enough homes to keep up with rising demand.

Most people who leave London don't go very far.

In the year to June 2012, nearly a quarter of a million people (247,923) left the city for destinations elsewhere in England and Wales. Nearly two thirds of those, though, left for the surrounding regions: 40% of them went to the South East, 26% to the East.

Those figures, oddly enough, are roughly proportional to the share of London’s circumference each of the two regions occupies. The obvious reading is that a lot of those who leave the capital are only getting as far as the commuter belt. They're leaving the city; they’re not leaving its orbit.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.