Covid-19 is accelerating migration away from the capital, as 1.6m Londoners (26%) have been working outside of the city during lockdown and want to continue doing so, according to new research from Totaljobs.
The study, which combines analysis of ONS data as well as the views of 2,000 UK adults, reveals that the numbers of workers moving away from London has already been increasing in recent years. In 2019, net outbound migration from London stood at 30,000 – meaning that for every nine adults moving to the capital, 10 were moving out. This is the equivalent of losing 83 workers every day[iii]. Now, Covid-19 is driving people to start relocating at an even faster pace.
While 38% of Londoners report that their job commitments had previously stopped them moving out of the city, 43% say that flexible working offered by their employer would encourage them to up sticks and move elsewhere. Overall, a third (33%) of Brits say that flexible working would encourage them to move, rising to 37% of 18-24 year olds nationally. As employers become more flexible and are able to offer increased remote working opportunities for certain roles, this could inspire more people to move, without negatively impacting businesses.
Historically, one in three UK graduates move to London, in a trend known as the ‘brain drain’, meaning of the 6.9 million working age adults in London, a third have come from elsewhere in the UK[iv]. However, this research highlights a growing migration trend, and that the ‘brain drain’ could be slipping into reverse quicker than originally anticipated.
The pandemic has impacted the longevity of the capital’s appeal, with previous research conducted by Totaljobs before lockdown finding that only 27% of Londoners intended to live in the London for the rest of their lives. This has now dropped further, to 20%. In fact, workers in cities in the South East and London are the most likely to want to move out of their city earlier than they had originally planned, as a result of Covid-19 (39% and 27% respectively).
More broadly across the UK, the outbreak of Covid-19 could spark an ‘urban exodus’ with workers increasingly moving to the countryside; over a quarter (27%) of people living in urban locations have been working from home since the outbreak of Covid-19, and don’t want to return to working in their city office. As a result, a quarter (26%) of Brits are now reconsidering the area in which they want to live. Nationally, 18-24 year olds (32%) are most likely to be reconsidering where they want to live, with 25-34 (31%) year olds following closely behind. With research from graduate job site Milkround in February this year suggesting that 77% of recent graduates believe there’s more job opportunities for people able to move to a big city, we could see this mindset shifting. The £2 billion Kickstart Scheme aims to create subsidised jobs for young people across the country, bringing valuable jobs not just to cities, but all areas of the UK.
Existing trends aren’t being reinvented, but are accelerating
With remote working more normalised post-Covid-19, more people are looking to move out of the capital, whether they are considering starting a family or not. For young people in particular, remote working can help them reduce costs by giving them the freedom to move to a cheaper area and reduce accommodation costs, with a quarter (25%) of 25-34 year olds highlighting this benefit. This figure rises to a third (31%) of Londoners.
Even prior to the pandemic, money was very much on people’s minds, with 30% of Londoners moving elsewhere due to the city’s high living costs. Over half of millennial Londoners (54%) think it’s unrealistic to own property in the capital, with 1 in 5 expecting to buy a house outside of London. With changes to stamp duty announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this might well spur on potential property buyers.
As a result of restrictions put into place to stem the spread of Covid-19, a third (32%) of Brits are now more interested in living in a rural area and a similar number (34%) say that they now want to live somewhere with more outside space. Looking at this in more detail, 30% of 18-34-year olds are now interested in living in a rural area.
Over the last five years (2015-2019) there has been 1.6m people moving out of London and fewer (1.1m) people moving in. Of that number, more than two thirds (70%) were of working age (20-64). Of those of working age leaving London, two fifths (40%) were aged 20-29 (445,500), making it the most represented age group migrating out of London amongst workers.
Jon Wilson, CEO at Totaljobs commented: “Covid-19 has drastically impacted the way we live, what we want from our jobs, and how we strike the balance between home and work. The pandemic has affected jobs across many different sectors, and, as a result, people are increasingly expanding their job searches beyond their immediate location.
“With many younger workers reporting that they would be interested in moving out of London if flexible and remote working options were available, there’s a real opportunity for regional employers to attract highly skilled and experienced people looking to relocate. In fact, Totaljobs research found that 25% of workers have already requested to continue remote working long term, meaning location could become less of a barrier for attracting talent altogether. Embracing the potential of flexible working for roles that can be carried out this way helps to retain staff, even those with plans to move further away from cities. This means employers can widen their talent pools beyond the candidates they can find locally.
“As we move into an employer-led market whereby there are more people looking for jobs, than jobs available, and the Government pledges to invest in businesses across the UK, the employers that will stand out from the crowd will be the ones that take heed of these changing trends and shifts in priorities for candidates and workers, and take action to support staff, for the benefit of individuals’ working lives, and business success.”
 Analysis of the ONS’s “Internal migration: by local authority and region, five-year age group and sex” dataset, published 24th June 2020 and covering the period 2014-2019
 Net outbound migration is the sum number of moves when you take people moving in and people moving out of an area.