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The Covid-19 pandemic accelerates migration out of London

New research from Totaljobs highlights that the Covid-19 pandemic has driven more people, particularly young workers, to consider moving out of London and other UK cities. For businesses able to embrace remote working, this opens up broader talent pools where location is no longer a barrier.

With the pandemic and government restrictions causing many to reconsider their careers, and assess what they need in their work and personal life, 38% of Londoners are now reconsidering where they live as a result of Covid-19.

Even before the impact of the pandemic, net migration out of London was already increasing. Totaljobs research in March 2020 showed the capital loses 83 workers every day, with net outbound migration at 30,000 adults.

This indicated the beginnings of the reversal of the brain drain – the migration trend that sees one in three graduates move to London in pursuit of jobs – as more people look to move out of the capital.

The historic brain drain

Research from our sister company and graduate site Milkround shows that 77% of recent graduates feel there’s more job opportunities for those able to afford the cost of moving to a big city, one driver of the brain drain from other regions of the UK to the capital.

Better job opportunities (36%), a job offer (30%) and the London lifestyle (27%) were top factors for people moving to the city, according to Totaljobs research prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Remote work means more mobility

Before lockdown, only 27% of Londoners intended to live in the London for the rest of their lives. Following the pandemic, this desire has dropped further, to 20%.

In fact, 26% of Londoners now want to move out of their city earlier than they had originally planned, as a result of Covid-19. With offices across the UK sitting empty with many workers swapped the daily commute for home-based offices, remote working has meant 1.6m Londoners (26%) who have worked outside of the city during lockdown want to continue doing so.

A third of people say that long-term flexible working would encourage them to move, rising to 37% of 18-24 year olds nationally. For Londoners, this is even more of a gamechanger. 43% state that if their London-based employer offered them flexible or remote working, they’d be encouraged to move out of the capital. Moving plans have previously been put on hold for 38% of Londoners, due to job commitments.

More broadly across the UK, 27% of people living in urban locations have been working from home since the outbreak, and don’t want to return to working in their city office. 18-24 year olds across the UK are the most likely age bracket to be reconsidering where they want to live (32%), with 25-34 (31%) year olds following closely behind.

With the Government cutting announcing a Stamp Duty holiday and subsidised jobs for young people across the UK to aid economic recovery following the pandemic, there’s potential for these accelerating migration trends to reduce the North-South divide, as well as benefit workers and employers across the UK.

Steps employers can take

Our March 2020 research highlighted the opportunity for regional businesses to attract talent looking to move out of London. Now, widespread homeworking during the pandemic has inspired many workers in jobs that can be done remotely, to fast-forward plans to move.

For businesses able to utilise flexible and remote opportunities long-term, employees who intend to move out of big cities including London can now be retained. Plus, across the UK, businesses can hire people from outside their local talent pool as location becomes less of a restriction for some roles.

Of course, not all jobs can be done remotely. Key workers in health and social care, logistics and food retail, plus the millions of people who were on furlough during lockdown, might well be among those who want to relocate.

For businesses looking to attract people to fill these roles, the relocation allowance is a tax break which means relocation costs up to the value of £8000 are exempt from national insurance and income tax. This could help to retain and support staff who are looking to move.

Our research also shows that those considering relocating can be persuaded to remain with their existing employer. 42% of millennials say salary benchmarking could encourage them to stay in London, while 28% would need support with travel costs, to enable them to still move out of the capital but stay with their employer. Greater childcare support would mean 22% of under 35s would be less driven to move further afield.

Jon Wilson, CEO at Totaljobs comments

“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.”

On 11th August 2020, we delved into the reversal of the brain drain in our webinar.

If you missed it, you can watch the recording below and understand what changing migration trends mean for businesses and city-based office space. Totaljobs was joined by Professor of Economics at Lancaster University, Geraint Johnes, along with recruitment experts from Co-Op and PeopleScout UK on our panel.

Download the report for more insight

  1. Totaljobs commissioned research through Opinium to survey 2,000 UK adults, between 12th June – 16th June 2020, alongside 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.