05London leavers mostly stayed local

The pandemic didn’t lead to a significant shift in the locations Londoners chose for their next homes. The Greater South East remained the most popular destination – before, during, and after the pandemic, between 58 and 59 per cent of people moving out of London moved to locations in the neighbouring South East and East. Cornwall might have received more homebuyer searches8 than London in early 2021, but, as Figure 7 shows clearly, there was no significant shift in end-destination through the pandemic.

Figure 7: Most people leaving London moved to the Greater South East, before, during and after the pandemic

Source: ONS

Non-urban locations did see a greater increase in popularity compared to urban ones. Within the Greater South East, the number moving to non-urban locations increased by 37 per cent (55,300 people), as compared to 19 per cent (12,700 people) to urban locations. Particularly popular destinations included South Oxfordshire, which saw a 90 per cent increase, and Winchester, which saw a 60 per cent increase.

The South West, the next most popular region, also saw its non-urban locations increase in popularity by more than its urban ones. Wiltshire and Cornwall received 56 and 45 per cent (1,680 and 1,350 people) more in 2020-21 than in a pre-pandemic year, respectively, while Bristol only received 22 per cent (1,350 people) more than normal.

The overall pattern of people moving from regions into London also didn’t change. Between 53 and 55 per cent of arrivals were from the Greater South East in all years.

Escape from the inner city

Data on the five years before the pandemic shows that different parts of London played different roles in the exporting and absorbing of people to and from elsewhere in England and Wales. Inner London was a net absorber of people (plus 2,300 people per year between 2014 and 2019); net out-migration from London was entirely a result of a net loss from Outer London (minus 105,000 people per year).

The breaking of this pattern was the most exceptional thing that happened during 2020-21. While 81 per cent of net out-migration was still from Outer London, Inner London also became a net loser of population to outside of London. As Figures 8 & 9 show, Inner London saw little change in its post-university age influx, but older ages left at higher than usual rates, contributing to a net loss of 36,700 people to outside London. This was mostly driven by a spike in the number of 30–45-year-olds leaving – 25,700 (68 per cent) more than in a normal year.

Figure 8 & 9: Inner London became a net loser of population during 2020-21

Source: ONS

Additional out-migration from Outer London occurred across a greater spread of ages. 56-65-year-olds saw the greatest percentage increase in the number of out-migrants, with 50 per cent more people than usual leaving London. And 24,800 more 30-45-year-olds than usual left – 37 per cent more than in an average pre-Covid year.

Box 2 looks at flows between Inner and Outer London.

Box 2: Movement within London.

2020-2021 was also a year of increased churn between Inner and Outer London.

Figures 10 & 11: Movement between Inner and Outer London increased in both directions



Source: ONS

Migration between Inner and Outer London, 2014-2019 yearly average and 2020-21. (Left: Outer to Inner; Right: Inner to Outer

Movement in both directions increased by roughly one third for 30-45-year-olds: some followed the general trend outward to less dense areas, while others may have taken advantage of reduced rents in more central locations (see below).

At the same time, there was a 45 per cent increase in the number of 56-65-year-olds moving from Outer to Inner and a 29 per cent increase in people moving in the opposite direction.

The effect of this churn was a seven per cent increase in net movement from Inner to Outer London compared to the average pre-pandemic year.