London: Contrasts in the quality of life between
the inner city and the suburbs
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There are clear overall contrasts between the inner and outer London boroughs reflecting the generalisations made in textbooks. However, amidst the relative deprivation of London’s inner city there are a significant number of affluent areas, and through the process of gentrification the number of such areas has increased over time. Equally, most outer London boroughs have their concentrations of poverty, often in post-1945 outer city council estates.
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small globe iconIntroduction

London is made up of the City of London, and the 32 boroughs, of which 13 are in inner London and 19 in outer London (Figure 1). This is the inner London–outer London distinction made by National Statistics which varies a little from some other interpretations.


Figure 1. London boroughs.

Figure 1.  London boroughs.


Figure 2. Tower block on council estate.

Figure 2.  Tower block on council estate.

The government is interested in measuring variations in the quality of life so that it can direct funds to areas which are relatively deprived. Over time, a wide range of different socio-economic indicators has been used to identify such variation. It is not surprising that each indicator, at least to some extent, produces a different pattern as every individual measure has its merits and limitations. Thus, most recent attempts to measure spatial variations in the quality of life have combined a range of indicators to form a composite quality of life index (or ‘index of multiple deprivation’). Figure 3 shows part of one dictionary definition of the quality of life.

Figure 3. Components of quality of life.
Figure 3.  Components of quality of life.

The government has refined the ways in which it measures deprivation, in an effort to gain the maximum improvement from the funds available. The latest government investigation in the quality of life in England took place in 2004.

small globe iconThe national Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004

The 2004 Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD 2004) measured deprivation for every Super Output Area (SOAs) and local authority (council area) in England. SOAs are groupings of Census Output Areas (typically 5) and represent approximately a minimum population of 1000 with a mean population of 1500. There are a total of 354 local authorities in England. Figure 4 shows the situation for London according to the latest research.

Figure 4. Map of London, showing index of Multiple Deprivation.Figure 4 .  Map of London, showing index of Multiple Deprivation.

There are seven deprivation areas which make up the overall IMD 2004 (Figure 5). Each area includes a number of factors. The seven areas are:

The IMD 2004 includes six district measures of deprivation, which are as follows:

Figure 5. Diagram of components of the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004.

Figure 5.  Diagram of components of the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004.

small globe iconContrasts between inner London and outer London

Figure 6 shows the position of all 32 London boroughs in the rankings for England for all six measures. Figure 6 also shows the results of the previous government analysis carried out in 2000.

Figure 6. Comparision of district level summaries for London boroughs.

Figure 6.  Comparision of district level summaries for London boroughs.


In the 50 most deprived districts (local authority areas), London boroughs were placed in the following positions. A rank of 1 equates to the most deprived borough in the country under each measure.

Overall, inner London boroughs appear 41 times in the 50 most deprived districts list over the six measures. This contrasts with thirteen times for the outer London boroughs. In terms of the latter, seven of the thirteen appearances are under ‘income scale’. Nineteen London boroughs fall within the 50 most deprived LA areas on at least one of the six district measures. For the measure of average rank, London ranges from Hackney as the most deprived local authority area in England to Richmond-Upon-Thames with a ranking of 300th out of 354.

Figure 7 shows small area deprivation in London. Six boroughs have more than half of all their SOAs falling within the 20 per cent most deprived nationally. These are Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets. Again, the inner London–outer London contrast is very significant.


Figure 7. Proportion of SOAs in top 10% and top 20%.

Figure 7.  Proportion of SOAs in top 10% and top 20%.

The following three illustrations show variations according to three key single indicators from the 2001 census, borough by borough.

Households with no car or van in 2001

The availability of a car or van is a significant factor in personal mobility which can impact considerably on the quality of life. Figure 8 shows the significant contrasts between inner and outer London. Eight London boroughs have at least 50 per cent of households with no car or van. The lowest figure in inner London is the 41 per cent recorded by Wandsworth. In contrast, eight outer London boroughs have figures below 25 per cent with the lowest being Hillingdon at 22 per cent.


Figure 8. Map of London showing % of housholds without a car or van.

Figure 8.  Map of London showing % of housholds without a car or van.

Households in owner-occupied accommodation in 2001

More people in recent years have been able to buy their own house or flat, due to a general rise in income throughout Britain. The considerable increase in owner-occupation in the UK in recent decades is testament to this argument. Figure 9 illustrates the wide contrast between each London borough. The range of owner-occupation in inner London is from a low of 29 per cent in Tower Hamlets to 52 per cent in Wandsworth. The range in outer London is from 49 per cent in Greenwich to 79 per cent in Havering and Bexley.




 Figure 9. Map of London showing % of housholds in owner-occupied accommodation.
Figure 9.  Map of London showing % of housholds in owner-occupied accommodation.


Rate of unemployment 2001

Figure 10 shows that the range in inner London was from 5.7 per cent in Hackney to 3.4 per cent in Wandsworth. In outer London the range was from 4.4 per cent in Greenwich to 2 per cent in Havering and Sutton.

Figure 10. Map of London showing % unemployed in 2001.

Figure 10.  Map of London showing % unemployed in 2001.

small globe iconCharacteristics of inner London

small globe iconLondon’s urban mosaic

However, average local authority figures hide significant variations within each borough. In both boroughs and wards (a division of a borough), high-income, middle-income and low-income housing may be located in close proximity and in a pattern that appears to be very complicated. Some geographers have likened this complicated arrangement of residential areas to a mosaic, a design (for example, on a quilt or stained glass) made up of many small pieces.


Figure 11. Gentrified terraced housing in Wandsworth.

Figure 11. Gentrified terraced housing in Wandsworth.

The urban mosaic model highlights three key variables:

Detailed analysis of census and other data shows quite clearly that there are small areas of striking affluence in inner London, and to a lesser extent in inner areas of other large cities. There are two main reasons for clusters of high socio-economic status in the inner city. Some areas have always been fashionable for those with money. Areas such as St John’s Wood and Chelsea are both only a short journey away from the City and West End, as well as pleasantly laid out with a good measure of open space. The original high quality of housing has been maintained to a very good standard.

Other fashionable areas have become so in recent decades through the process of gentrification. Gentrification is marked by the occupation of more space per person than the original occupants from lower socio-economic groups.

The low-income areas which are most likely to undergo this process usually have some distinct advantages such as:


Evidence of gentrification is:

Because the demand for housing in London exceeds the supply, many parts of the city have been gentrified since the 1960s.

Figure 12. Housing Association accommodation in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Figure 12.  Housing Association accommodation in Hammersmith and Fulham.

small globe iconA residential preference for the suburbs

As a generalisation it is fair to say that, over many decades, significant numbers of people who have been affluent enough to choose have preferred to live in the suburbs as opposed to the inner city. Land prices are lower in the suburbs than the inner city, so the same amount of money will buy a larger property in the suburbs. For many the prospect of a detached or semi-detached house with a good-sized garden in the suburbs offered a higher quality of life that living in a terraced house or flat in the inner city.

small globe iconThe inner city problem: a sequence of explanations

Inner city problems are the result of interconnected aspects of decline (lack of capital investment, declining industries, loss of jobs), deprivation (run-down housing, overcrowding, lack of open space) and despair (social unrest, riots, vandalism). Inner city decline is the counterpart of suburbanisation. Over the years a number of different explanations of the inner city problem have appeared. For over two decades after the Second World War, inner city problems were attributed primarily to poor housing and other aspects of a run-down environment. The solutions were deemed to be clearance and re-development.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s the focus of attention shifted to issues of social deprivation. From this broad perspective three alternative explanations emerged:

Figure 13. The cycle of deprivation.

Figure 13.  The cycle of deprivation.

From the mid-1970s two additional perspectives emerged which focused on the structural economic fabric of the inner city emerged:

Although not all local authority housing estates are in inner cities, a significant proportion are. Such estates have increasingly become the focal points of deprivation. Much of the more attractive local authority housing that existed 25 years ago has been sold off under the council tenants' ‘Right to Buy’ scheme. The local authority housing that remains today is largely unattractive in character and located in very deprived areas. This is in effect the spatial marginalisation of those who are already socially marginalised. If these trends continue, the successful metropolis, according to Siebel (1984) is likely to be divided into three different cities:


On-going processes of re-urbanisation and gentrification are likely to accelerate this division. Where gentrification expands the ‘international’ city, the poor are further pushed out into the worst segment of the housing market.


Figure 14. Different explanations of the inner city problems.
Figure 14.  Different explanations of the inner city problems.

small globe iconConclusion

The overall quality of life gap between inner and outer London is very significant indeed. However, within each borough there are striking variations, often within very short distances, which show that an urban mosaic can be recognised in many areas. Deprivation is one of the major problems facing government today. Although progress has been made, there is no doubt that the gap between the richest and poorest in London is wider today than in previous decades.