Survey of Londoners reveals city's social and economic challenges

27 June 2019
  • Four in 10 Londoners owe money on unsecured debt
  • 12 per cent of Londoners are not able to keep their homes warm in the winter
  • Three-quarters of Londoners say people from different backgrounds get on well together


The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today published the most comprehensive survey of Londoners ever setting out the social and economic challenges facing the capital and revealing that four in 10 Londoners owe money on unsecured debts.


For the first time, the survey brings together data on London’s equality, social integration and economic fairness, as well as people’s access to food to provide an accurate picture of the challenges facing the capital.


The survey showed that nearly 40 per cent of Londoners owe money on unsecured debt, either through loans, credit cards or household bills, and that a quarter of this group of Londoners – equivalent to 600,000 – find keeping up with their debt a serious burden. It found that half a million Londoners owe money on missed household bills such as electricity, gas or council tax and that those living in the most deprived areas of London – particularly Enfield and Haringey – are twice as likely to report they are struggling with the heavy burden of debt.  


The statistics also reveal that the hardest hit are single parents, with two-thirds owing money on unsecured debt, while social renters and disabled Londoners also find dealing with their debts a significant burden.


Figures in the survey show that one in eight are not able to keep their homes warm in the winter, impacting those with the lowest income, single parents and social renters the most.


It also found that nearly 1.5 million adults – equivalent to one in five adult Londoners – do not have access to enough food or run out of money to buy food. Further evidence shows this impacts heavily on children living in the capital, with 400,000 not having access to enough food for a healthy diet. 


Another significant challenge affecting Londoners is insecure employment, with about 10 per cent reporting to be on either temporary contracts, working through an employment agency or self-employed in a low skilled job.


Commissioned by the Mayor, the survey collected and analysed data from thousands of Londoners to help City Hall better understand the groups of Londoners most affected by economic unfairness in the capital and to tailor policies within the Mayor’s powers to tackle them.


The survey also provides a better understanding of the complexity of social integration in London, one of the most diverse cities in the world. Almost three-quarters of Londoners surveyed say they belong to their local area, while 75 per cent said their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. However, that leaves a quarter of Londoners who do not feel that way, which clearly shows there is more work to be done in this area.


Similarly, more than a quarter of Londoners are socially isolated (27 per cent), defined as not having someone they can rely on a lot in an emergency. Young Londoners and LGBT+ Londoners are more likely to be both lonely and socially isolated. Black Londoners are more likely to be socially isolated than white Londoners. Those with poorer economic outcomes (e.g. low food security) are more likely to be socially isolated.


Sadiq is committed to doing everything in his power to ensure all Londoners benefit from the city’s success. He is investing £1 billion to help build new council homes and using his planning powers to make available thousands of low rent homes for low-income families, as well as implementing a range of measures to make childcare more affordable and accessible for Londoners. He has also frozen transport costs and introduced the ‘Hopper’ fare, as well as boosted the income of working families by promoting the London Living Wage and using his Good Work Standard to encourage employers to help with the cost of living.  But the impact of the Government’s austerity measures and welfare reforms have hit the budgets of low-income Londoners the hardest. City Hall has commissioned further research into the impact of welfare changes on all groups of Londoners which will be published later this summer.


The Mayor has continued to lobby the Government on welfare, Universal Credit and the Living Wage, and hopes this stark new data published today will prompt ministers to act on properly tackling poverty and its causes.


The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “This incredibly comprehensive survey of Londoners lays bare the true impact of government cuts to public services and welfare support on Londoners. Economic inequality in our city and our country is simply too high.


“It should concern us all that so many Londoners are having to turn to loans and credit cards to get by, while others simply do not have enough money to keep their homes warm during the winter months.


“I’m incredibly proud that the large majority of Londoners welcome diversity in their communities and have a strong sense of belonging in our city. However, it’s clear that we need to tackle inequality and poverty across our city, and ensure all Londoners, whatever their background, have the opportunities they need to fulfil their potential.  


“This must be a top priority for the new Prime Minister, starting with putting an end to the failed austerity agenda and ensuring the benefits system in our country is fair and works for all.”


Bharat Mehta CBE, Chief Executive of Trust for London, said: “This is a timely and important survey that shows whilst London is a wonderful city with lots to offer, too many Londoners struggle to make ends meet. We know from our own research that four in 10 Londoners cannot afford a socially acceptable standard of living, as judged by the public. Keeping on top of debt and bills becomes even more difficult in the capital, where the high costs of living, especially of housing, mean that more Londoners live in poverty than in any other region in the country.


“Central, regional and local government, civil society and businesses, working together to tackle this issue could help bring about significant changes and deliver real help for Londoners who are struggling.”


Alison Blackwood, Senior Policy and Campaigns Advocate at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “The message that came across loud and clear from our own London in the Red report last year was that there were many interconnected issues – the high cost of housing, the relatively young age of the population, and the relatively precarious working lives of many Londoners. Together these combine to foster a high risk of debt, even though average incomes in London are higher than in the country as a whole. We support a holistic approach that looks at how to untangle the various pressures, and look forward to working with the Mayor’s office to help build greater financial resilience in the capital.”


Matt Dronfield, Head of London-wide Advice at Toynbee Hall, said: “As leader of Debt Free London, London’s free face-to-face debt advice service, we know that a staggering 1.6m Londoners live every day with problem debt. They might face arrears for punishingly high rent or for council tax; or struggling to pay off high interest loans, store card or credit card debts; owing money to friends and families who have helped out; or a combination of all these things. It is a bleak picture, with huge consequences for ordinary Londoners, their families and communities.

“Last year our partnership worked directly with over 25,000 Londoners. It was a year in which demand for our services has reached record levels; and we’ve helped more people  than ever deal with debt and the difficulties it brings.

“We welcome this report by the Mayor and are looking forward to working closely with him to ensure more must be done to support those who find themselves struggling to pay their bills and make ends meet.”


- Ends –

Notes to editors

The full Survey of Londoners can be found here:


The Survey of Londoners, carried out by NatCen, and commissioned by the Mayor, collected data from a representative sample of more than 6,000 Londoners to help City Hall better understand the groups of Londoners most affected by economic unfairness in the capital and to tailor policies within the Mayor’s powers.


The survey ran from October 2018 to March 2019, using an online methodology, followed by paper questionnaires. The sample was drawn from across the whole of London, to provide estimates for major demographic groups by age, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.


To help tackle fuel poverty, the Mayor set up the Fuel Poverty Partnership, working together with experts across the health, social justice and environment sectors to guide London’s work on fuel poverty. This is part of the Mayor’s £34m Energy for Londoners programme. The Partnership Group is chaired by the Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Debbie Weekes-Bernard, and the Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, Shirley Rodriquez, who will not only assist the Mayor in delivering fuel poverty support but also work across support services to identify households living in fuel poverty so they can get the support they need.

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