While the British capital experienced relatively low rates of infection during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic compared to the north of England, London has been one of the regions hit hardest by the new variant of the virus discovered in December. A study by the University of Cambridge has estimated that up to a third of Londoners have already had the virus, the highest of any region. As the UK experiences its third national lockdown, many have been working remotely for almost a year due to restrictions, and Government guidance to work from home where possible is unlikely to change soon.
As case numbers in London continue to rise, 16% of Londoners say they are currently away from London due to the coronavirus pandemic or for another reason. This result echoes findings from August, despite the fact that London is now in lockdown and was not in lockdown in August, suggesting that some people could have been away from London for an extended period of time, that there is some movement in and out of the capital, or that few people returned to the office when there were fewer restrictions.
Younger London residents are more likely to say they are currently away from London, with a quarter of 18-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds saying they are in this position. These slight age differences may be due to the greater ability of respondents in these age groups to return to living with their parents, who may live elsewhere.
Only a tiny minority (3%) of those who are employed and not working from home say they are currently away from London, whereas a quarter (25%) of those who have been working from home have opted to do so from outside the capital. With city life grinding to a halt, many of the benefits of living in London have gone. Nonetheless, the perks offered from living outside of London, such as larger homes, greener space, and cheaper living costs, continue to be beneficial during the pandemic.
Nevertheless, three-quarters (76%) of those currently away from the city say they intend to return before the current lockdown ends. It is worth noting that a date for the end of the lockdown has not been agreed nor announced, yet many seem keen to return to the capital soon.
A further 76% of those who do not intend to return to London during the lockdown (n = 65, small sub-sample) nevertheless say they intend to do so as soon as the lockdown ends or shortly thereafter. As such, the vast majority of Londoners currently away from the city do have an intention to return.
While those currently away from London appear to only be away temporarily, more than a quarter (28%) of all Londoners say they have changed their long-term living arrangements since March 2020. Young people are the most likely to have changed their living arrangements, with 41% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds changing their long-term living arrangements. Such changes could be because younger people are more likely to be students and also twice as likely to have lost their jobs due to the pandemic compared to older people.
More than a quarter of London residents (28%) stated that their experience of the coronavirus pandemic has decreased their desire to live in London in the future, while the majority (60%) say it has had no impact. A tenth (12%) say the pandemic has increased their desire to live in London.
Only 5% of those who have not been able to work from home said that the pandemic has increased their desire to live in London in future, compared to 16% of those who have been working from home. The absence of the social aspect associated with the workplace may explain why those working from home have a stronger desire to live in the capital in future. Nevertheless, a significant minority of both those who are working from home (29%) and those who are not (30%) say that the pandemic has decreased their desire to live in London in the future.
A third (33%) of those who live in rented accommodation say their desire to live in London has decreased, compared to a quarter (24%) of those who own their own homes and those who are living with family. The finding that a significant minority of those that own their own homes are less likely to want to live in London in future suggests that larger numbers of property owners could move elsewhere in the coming years.
Overall, the opportunity to work from home has changed the way in which many London residents view city living. While the majority of those currently away from London intend to return in the short term, a significant minority of both those working from home and those not able to work from home state that the pandemic has decreased their desire to live in London in the future.