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 freelance journalist based in Beijing. You can follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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