Samuel Johnson once said that 'when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.' Two hundred years later, Paul Theroux wrote that 'a person who is tired of London is not necessarily tired of life; it might be that he just can't find a parking place.'
With a population growth rate more than twice that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, standing on a London underground platform at rush hour is like competing in an aggressive game of human Jenga. It's every man for himself, and somewhere between the station entrance and the ticket gates the concept of 'personal space' gets lost in a sea of suits and to-go coffee cups.
But despite the horror stories we hear about the tube, the pollution and the cost of living, for thousands of Scottish graduates up and down the country, moving to London seems almost inevitable. SR interviewed six young Scots who relocated to the Big Smoke in their 20s to explore what drove them there and how they feel about their move retrospectively. Their professional backgrounds range from forensic science to the dramatic arts, but all of the interviewees shared two common themes. For one, each of them indicated that their decision to migrate south after university was at least partly influenced by the necessity to find work. Secondly, each respondent expressed a desire to leave the city within the next 10 years because the cost of living is untenable.
Rehanna is an actor from East Kilbride who moved to London last year. Despite signing a two-year contract on a flat, she is already considering the very real possibility that she'll be priced out of the city: 'the worst thing about living in London is that it's extortionate. As a working-class millennial working in the arts, I'd say at times it's actually nearly impossible. London will probably force me to leave at some point.'
This sentiment is echoed by Jen, a set designer who calls London's financial climate 'a real struggle.' In her first six months living in the city, she hopped from sublet to sublet, too busy working to find permanent accommodation. Even after finding it, she adds, the additional letting agent fees were extortionate, and she and her friends have found it difficult to socialise given how expensive living in central London can be. Although she says that she will miss the vibrancy and multiculturalism of the capital, Jen is making preparations to move back to Scotland within the year.
Similarly Melissa, a primary school teacher, is also planning to leave London because the 'expensive, unaccommodating places to live and super busy, very polluted, long commutes' are becoming increasingly intolerable.
This is an irony shared by the thousands of 20-somethings who are drawn to London by the Dick Whittington effect every year and then spat back out due to the lack of affordability. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), London has a much younger population than the rest of Britain with a median age of just 34.8 compared with a national average of 40. This reflects the number of people in their 20s who move to the city to find a job before settling down elsewhere.
This mass exodus of young Scots to London is having profound effects on Scotland's labour market. Although the ONS confirmed earlier this year that Scotland's unemployment rate had fallen to a 25-year low, this is not necessarily indicative of stability. For proof of this, look no further than the chronic teachers' shortage. A 2011 survey carried out by the General Teaching Council for Scotland found that only one in five new teachers found permanent, full-time jobs after qualifying between 2009 and 2010. As a result of this deficit in opportunity, many relocated to secure permanent work.
Emma graduated from Glasgow University in 2009 and was one of the many newly qualified teachers who moved south: 'I had just completed my teaching probation and was told there were no posts. I was offered a place on the supply list without interview but I wanted to start building a solid career with my own consistent classroom experience. A friend of mine had an interview in London and asked if I wanted to get in touch with them too. Within a week I had an interview and was then offered a permanent contract.' Newly-qualified teachers like Emma weren't so much drawn in by London as they were pushed out of Scotland.
But since reports emerged that over 40% of teachers are threatening to leave the profession because of workload, the Scottish government has been struggling to turn the tap on history. With shortages across the country, particularly in more remote councils and in subjects such as science, technology and maths, Nicola Sturgeon has announced that extra funding has been made available to train an additional 371 teachers between 2017 and 2018. The Scottish government has also launched a global recruitment campaign to encourage retired teachers and those training overseas to consider rejoining the profession or seek employment in Scotland.
The fluctuating state of the teaching profession over the last decade is characteristic of the chaotic nature of Scotland's labour market overall. Self-employment, for example, is at an all-time high, and in the creative industries this trend is especially prevalent. In 2015, 43% of the creative industries' UK workforce was self-employed, with 78% of businesses having fewer than five employees. Forecasters predict that, by 2020, there will be more in self-employment than traditional employment, meaning that young people will be forced to create a job for themselves rather than apply for one. While self-employment does offer more flexibility, it can be volatile with fewer worker protections in place in the event of illness. The Scottish government, according to its labour market strategy, is in the process of ascertaining whether or not the rise in self-employment is a symptom of increased entrepreneurialism or fewer job opportunities.
Rather than competing for the few permanent posts available north of the border, Scottish graduates are looking to London to gain stable experience in their field. Lynnsay works in marketing by day and writes a lifestyle blog by night and says that there are definitely not enough jobs for her at home: 'I did a marketing degree and while there are jobs in Scotland in that field, there are far more in London. There is a lot of competition in Scotland for marketing positions, especially at entry-level.'
The struggle to find adequately paid work in their field is widespread among Scottish graduates. A common complaint is that they are told they lack the experience even for entry-level positions. This can be incredibly discouraging and confusing, since without a paying job, it simply isn't feasible for many to acquire the experience employers are looking for.
The ONS has found that as many as half of the Scots who graduated from university and some college courses in the past five years are underemployed and doing jobs below the level of their qualifications. Before she moved to London three months ago, Stephanie worked in the technical department of an alcoholic beverages company despite graduating with a degree in forensic science. 'In order to do the job I had studied at university for,' she explains, 'I knew a move was necessary. The availability of forensic science jobs in Scotland is very limited and they are often filled by far more experienced applicants rather than recent scientific graduates.'
Testimonies like these demonstrate that while the employment rate in Scotland is improving, it's still too early for a self-congratulatory pat on the back. Unemployment might be at a 25-year low, but this conceals the number in part-time work and doesn't indicate how well-paid or secure the jobs available are. It's not enough to simply churn out jobs; the types of jobs being created and the levels of security and prospects they offer are of equal importance.
It's unrealistic to expect every Scottish graduate to stay in Scotland: London's diversity and dynamism will continue to draw ambitious graduates from across the UK. The problem is that many Scots are being pushed out of Scotland and into London where they are building up debt and living in isolation just to make ends meet. Samuel Johnson was right: London does have all that life can afford, it's just that no one can afford it.
SR's partner organisation, the Young Programme charity, is looking to recruit an additional member of our creative team for the 2018 season. We organise courses of professional development for people in the early stages of their careers. These include the Young Scotland Programme, the Young England and Wales Programme, and the Young Ireland Programme. If you have an ability to communicate with young people, a thorough knowledge of current affairs, experience of chairing and facilitating discussion, and the freedom to commit to at least six residential events a year, each of three days' duration, you could well be the ideal person for this assignment. You would be paid a daily rate, and your travel and accommodation costs would be met by the Young Programme. Interested? Then the director of the Young Programme, Fiona MacDonald, would like to hear from you. Email her on firstname.lastname@example.org with your CV and a covering letter of application no later than Friday 8 December.