Local and regional employment statistics from the 2021 Census were released this week, giving a snapshot of who is working in London and how this compares with the rest of the country. There are caveats, given that the Census was undertaken in March 2021 at the end of the last Covid 19 lockdown when some Londoners had moved out of the city. Also, these figures are about residents’ economic activity as distinct from the jobs in London’s workplaces. Nevertheless, here are four observations about how Londoners are working, from a brief review of the data.
Employment rates are high in London, but partly for demographic reasons
At first glance, London boroughs are hives of economic activity. There are 331 English and Welsh local authority districts and five of the ten with the highest employment rates were in London. Wandsworth, Lambeth and the City of London took the top three slots, with Southwark and Merton not far behind. All had 65 per cent employment rates or higher.
But these numbers are skewed. Firstly, the headline Census figures look at the entire population over 16 years old, including those above retirement age. London has a younger population than the England and Wales average, and young people tend to work more than older people.
By this measure, therefore, you would expect to find higher employment rates in London. But if you look at employment rates only for those aged 16-64, London boroughs are towards the middle or bottom of the table.
The second factor that seems to have affected London’s figures surprised me. In addition to the effect of having a younger population, older Londoners are much more likely to be working than counterparts elsewhere.
Overall, 14 per cent of people in the capital aged 65 and over are still working, and London boroughs account for eight of the ten districts with the highest employment levels nationally.
The City of London, Kensington & Chelsea, Camden and Westminster all have more than 20 per cent of their older residents in work. London is not so much the city that never sleeps as the city that never retires.
There’s a big employment gap for disabled Londoners, but fewer are economically inactive than in other regions
The employment rate for disabled people over 16 living in London is just under 30 per cent. This is higher than in other regions, though there is a stark gap between employment for disabled and non-disabled people: the employment rate for the former group is 38 per cent lower than for the latter.
There is also a relatively high proportion of disabled Londoners who do not have a job but are looking for one. However, fewer disabled Londoners are economically inactive (ie, not in work, but not seeking work either) than in other regions.
Whether this pattern is because London’s labour market can work well for disabled people, or because economic circumstances and sanctions force more of them to keep looking for work in the capital, is not clear from these figures. Trust for London and other organisations have done extensive work on the subject.
Women’s employment rates are relatively high, but the gender employment gap varies markedly across the city
The employment rate for women in London aged 16 and over was around 57 per cent. That’s higher than in any other English region. Eight inner London boroughs had rates of above 60 per cent.
At the same time, and in common with every other English and Welsh local authority district, employment rates in London boroughs were higher for men than for women. However, there is a very mixed picture across the city.
Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets, Harrow and Barking & Dagenham are five of the eight English and Welsh districts with employment gender gaps of more than 12 per cent, while Hackney, Lambeth and Lewisham have gaps of five per cent or less, which are some of the lowest.
This may partly result from demographics: the boroughs with low employment gaps have many young, single (or newly-coupled) professional people, while the boroughs with wider gender gaps have some of the highest birthrates in London and include communities in which, for cultural reasons, women may be less likely to work.
Worker growth is outstripping general population growth in East London
Between 2011 and 2021 London’s working adult population aged 16 and over and its total population aged 15 and over both rose by around 8.5 per cent. But growth was very unevenly distributed.
The east London boroughs have seen rapid increases and in most cases their working population growth has outstripped their general population growth. Other boroughs, particularly in other parts of north and west outer London, have seen their working population grow more slowly than their overall population, and a handful of west-central boroughs have seen a decline in both groups.
Taken together, these figures suggest that London continues to contain extremes of employment and worklessness. Zooming into the ONS’s detailed map, you can find blocks where 15 per cent or more of people aged over 16 are unemployed and looking for work within boroughs that have grown their workforce by 25 per cent over the past ten years.
Londoners are unquestionably working hard. More women, more older people and more disabled people are in the workforce. To what extent this is a result of making positive choices and the general industriousness of urban life, and how far it is driven by the exorbitant costs of living in the capital is another question.
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