London has historically been the place to go for young creative types. These days, renting damp warehouses and staying in bad relationships just because being in a couple makes life cheaper are among the many grim choices some make just to be there.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way. The thought of settling in a parochial university town or returning home to Little Borington is the closest thing to death imaginable. The peak age for moving to London is 23, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – shortly after graduation.
Young Londoners accept high housing costs relative to pay as a trade-off for fun and potential. They want a different life to small-town Mums and Dads – and perma-debt is a price worth paying to be part of the action.
Or is it?
There’s a point at which those rosy specs start to lose their tint – the excitement becomes tiring, the restaurants a bit samey and the price tag: unacceptable. Not for everyone. For some, living in London remains as much a necessity as breathing. But for many, a pull back out to the regions is inevitable. There are more twenty-somethings moving to London than moving out, but the reverse is true for people in their thirties, according to the ONS. The average age for a man to leave is 36 and for a woman, it’s 34. Net outflows continue for every age group up to 90+. London is a young person’s city.
It could be the prospect of having a family, professional disillusionment or pure nostalgia that flicks the switch and throws hometowns such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham into a new, more appealing light.
But increasingly, the pull away from London is financial. I have three friends I used to go to school with in Nottingham who have already left London, or will shortly, to move back up to the Midlands and beyond: to the land where pie crusts and accents are thicker.
They cite the slower pace of life, the friendliness of the people and a desire to return to roots. But let’s be real, the clincher is that they can get a LOT more bang for their buck.
What’s more, this decision seems to be happening earlier in life. Some people in their late twenties are now deciding enough is enough (if the small sample of my friends is anything to go by). Some young creative types are choosing not to move to London at all – preferring the spare room in Sussex with their parents after graduation to urban impoverishment.
The case for young people to turn their backs on the Capital altogether is compelling. House prices have actually gone down in some towns and cities in the past decade, while in London, they have risen substantially. Ten years ago, the average house price in London was £285,958 and in Newcastle, it was £162,523, according to the UK House Price Index. Now, the average house price in London is £471,742 and in Newcastle, it’s £151,456. A 64 per cent rise in London, and a 6.8 per cent fall in Newcastle.
Quality of life can also be higher in some towns and cities outside of London. According to uSwitch.com, Solihull, Darlington and York all rate more highly for quality of life (measuring things like crime and broadband access as well as affordability) than London.
It used to be that if you made the move out to the provinces, you would also have to accept a lower income. For those who have already forged a professional reputation, this is no longer necessarily the case. Sure, you don’t hear of many bankers earning seven figures out of a garden shed in Southport, but thanks to the growth of remote working and self-employment (the gig economy), it is becoming increasingly feasible to earn a London wage, while being hundreds of miles away. So you don’t necessarily have to give up your career and become a waiter if you want to step out of the rat race. Just do the same job, somewhere else.
That makes a broader property search of the provincial postcodes even more palatable. It also means that the regions could receive an economic and creative boost. Of course, such outflows will push property prices up elsewhere too, eventually. And the cost of living is rising everywhere, thanks to inflation. But moving out of London, or in fact anywhere that looks ultra-expensive compared with affordable regions, could be one way to instantly soften the blows of rising living costs. As Zadie Smith said: ‘London is a state of mind.’ So you can take it with you. And enjoy a better quality of life, for less money, too.
Rebecca O’Connor is the founder of Good With Money and a former financial writer at The Times