The London skyline from Hampstead Heath. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Young creatives continue to flock to the capital, despite all the reasons not to

An enduring feeling of “cool” and a certain pack mentality mean that London is still the place to be for young and broke twenty-somethings.

For decades, the assumption has been for creative talent to move to the capital where the streets are paved of gold and “hot sex” abounds (thank you, Mr Gove). Think of pretty much any young, cool, creative person and you can almost guarantee that at some point they cut their teeth in the unforgiving metropolis that churns out hot new names faster than the government can milk them dry.

More recently, however, finding anywhere affordable to live in London surpasses the imaginative abilities of even the most creative Hot Young Thing. The average house price in London is now £458,000, two hundred grand more than the national. In the year ending January 2014, house prices in London went up 13.2 per cent; nationally, just 3.8 per cent. Earlier this month, a rather dilapidated 568 square foot garage that used to house the mayor of Southwark’s car, round the corner from Camberwell College of Arts, sold at auction for half a million pounds. That’s nearly £1,000 per square foot.

Renting, too, has become unaffordable. According to Foxtons, the cheapest rent that you can hope to pay in Hoxton - a former creative hub - is £325 per week. Why not move to the suburbs, where rent is far cheaper? Apart from the fact that Cockfosters hardly has the same urban appeal as Camden, a Zone 1-5 yearly season ticket will set you back over two grand. Add to this the fact that in Leeds, a city comparable to London in terms of nightlife and culture, the average weekly rent comes in at £170, and you can see why the young and broke might be looking elsewhere.

Alice Udale-Smith, from Bath, is in her final year at Cambridge and has been offered a place to study for a Masters in London. “I don’t have any family to stay with, so need to guarantee I’ll have enough in rent money for the year...unless I get funding I may have to turn [it] down.”

“I’d always assumed I’d end up in London after graduation, as I thought the majority of the media jobs I was interested in would be based there. However, on one recent job application I was given the option to express a preference for other cities and so opted for Bristol instead, as I think the south-west would be more affordable on a starting salary.”

Smaller cities also provide more opportunities for career development. Fergus Waddell graduated from Glasgow University three years ago and now lives in Edinburgh, working in advertising. “I suppose I always just assumed that I would go to London when I graduated before I got a job in Edinburgh . . . Most of my friends have gone to London.

“However now I am in Edinburgh I think that I actually get way more experience and responsibility than I would if I was in London, as it is a smaller pond really. I think that if I did move to London I would go in a year or so, because I would have much better experience than if I gone straight there.”

Beyond other UK cities, some people are even looking abroad. European capitals are no longer so linguistically inaccessible and living costs are far cheaper, with some countries, such as Denmark, offering free postgraduate courses for any EU members.

“I would consider other cities like Berlin and Copenhagen,” says Emily Cousens, currently studying for a Masters at Oxford University. “Both are far less focussed [than London] on a financial centre as the economic driver and so tend to have a lot more creativity and seemingly happier people with a higher quality of life,” she says.

The grind of life in an urban metropolis can certainly be taxing, and it is easy to see why people might go elsewhere. Ruth Broadbent, a Londoner, is a case in point. After graduating with a degree in English from Oxford University, she decided to move to Paris. “Maybe if it had seemed like I would be able to move out within a year of working I would have stayed, but that wasn’t going to happen”. Now back and living at home, Ruth is unsure of where to go next. “I would definitely consider the idea of living elsewhere,” she says, “But it would depend. . . on the extent to which I felt I could pursue any job option. . . most internships would be in London.”

Similarly, Emily still feels a “pull” to London, despite the fact that often, the “only viable options tend to be corporate jobs with long hours”.

“I think London is still cool in some ways. It is definitely still an extremely diverse and dynamic city. Whilst ‘hipsterness’ has sort of commodified and homogenized what used to be slightly more spontaneous and artistic expressions of creativity. . .there are. . .still some elements of ‘coolness’ that remain.”

Indeed, everyone I speak to agrees that London still has an inexorable appeal. Ruth talks hopefully about the growth in squats and co-ops: “Spaces for young people to work and play and live together”.

“I still see London as a cool place to live, as do all my friends,” says Ella Bruce, another recent graduate who is living at home in London. “We always have conversations about how we could never live anywhere other than London because, to us, it is definitely one of, if not the best, city in the world.”

London is expensive. It is hostile, difficult and dirty. It has one of the highest crime rates in the UK. And yet, people flock. The bright lights and dark clubs and dimly lit places in between seem to supersede any more practical, grey considerations and few young people genuinely imagine themselves elsewhere. Certainly, they will be pushed further afield, and even the phrase “the new Dalston” will become redundant, as people forget that Dalston was once cool and re-appropriate further forgotten suburbs. But the city will evolve, and young people will adapt. They are not tired yet.

Amy Hawkins is a student at the University of Cambridge and deputy editor of Varsity, the student newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.