Low Income? Living In Outer London Isn't Even An Option Any More

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 36 months ago
Low Income? Living In Outer London Isn't Even An Option Any More

Photo by Wendy Dobing from the Londonist Flickr pool

How hard is it living in London on a low income? We've been checking this for a while — examining how rents are changing in comparison with wages and other bills.

What we do is create a fictional family with two children (who are old enough to not need childcare and able to share a room) and work out fixed income and outgoings for either one or two adults working. We don't take things like clothes or savings into account, because they can vary — though of course we all know they're necessities and need to be paid for.

Our original aim was to see if it was possible to live in London on minimum or living wage without having to resort to housing benefit. If you're on your own, even working 40 hours a week, the answer is 'not a chance'. And even two adults working full time on minimum wage... on paper, maybe; but in reality, no.

When looking at flats in each area, we try to discount obvious outliers at the bottom of the market, but even so we have a feeling we're underplaying the costs. (In Neasden, Catford and Tottenham, for example, we suspect the real bottom of the rental market is about £50pcm higher than what we've listed; and expect to pay significantly more if you don't have your own furniture in some areas.) We also have no way of knowing what state these flats are in, whether they accept people on benefits — many landlords don't, even though increasing numbers of Londoners need housing benefit to survive here — or how lucky our fictional family would need to be to bag one of these 'cheap' places. If you've ever gone through the pain of renting, you'll know it's dog eat dog out there.

We're also finding that rents in outer London are starting to catch up with inner London. That's not surprising, as benefit caps and the general lack of affordability pushes people outwards. But if we get to a point where all of London is out of the reach of people who are working — and a couple of years ago, 700,000 Londoners earned less than the living wage (PDF) — will politicians then, finally, start doing something serious about the housing crisis?


Minimum wage: £6.50 an hour x 40 hours = £260 a week / £1,118 a month. After tax and with child benefit: £1,165.43
With two people earning plus child benefit: £2,182.94

London Living Wage: £9.15 an hour x 40 hours = £366 a week / £1,573.80 a month. After tax and with child benefit: £1,475.37
With two people earning plus child benefit: £2,802.82


Gas and electricity: £53.91 a month
Water: £34.05 a month
TV licence: £12.12 a month
Phone and broadband: £15.95 a month
Contents insurance: £4.17 a month
Council tax: dependent on area, roughly £100 a month (£75 a month for single parent household)
Monthly travelcard zone 1-3: £144.80 / Monthly travelcard 1-6: £225.10
Food: £350 a month (£270 for single parent household)

Money left on minimum wage
Two adults living in zone 1-3 have £1,323.14 left
One adult working, living in zone 1-3 has £555.43 left
Two adults living in zone 1-6 have £1,162.54 left
One adult working, living in zone 1-6 has £475.13 left

Money left on living wage
Two adults living in zone 1-3 have £1,943.02 left
One adult working, living in zone 1-3 has £865.37 left
Two adults living in zone 1-6 have £1,782.42 left
One adult working, living in zone 1-6 has £785.07 left

Where can they afford to live?
Oh dear. We know it looks like Bexley's under a grand, but in reality if you need a furnished flat, we can't find anywhere in London where you can realistically hope to find a two bedroom flat for less than £1,000 a month. Rents are — and this isn't unusual, we've found — between £50 and £100 a month higher than they were six months ago. We suspect we should start looking in different areas if we're going to continue this exercise, rather than throwing up our hands in disgust: suggestions in the comments, please (if you want to publicise an area's 'cheapness'. We'll understand if you'd rather keep it to yourself).

Zone 3
Neasden from £1,250pcm
Tottenham from £1,150pcm
Catford from £1,150pcm
Forest Gate from £1,100pcm
Streatham from £1,200pcm

Zone 6
Chadwell Heath from £1,050pcm
Bexley from £800pcm (all unfurnished)
Uxbridge from £1,050pcm
Caterham from £1,100pcm
Feltham from £1,050pcm
Enfield from £1,100pcm

Outside London
Milton Keynes from £725pcm
Monthly travel with travelcard £558

Sevenoaks from £1,000pcm
Monthly travel with travelcard £378.70

Chelmsford from £750pcm
Monthly travel with travelcard £451.60

Guildford from £1,000pcm
Monthly travel with travelcard £403.60

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Last Updated 01 June 2015

Philip Whitehouse

Looks about right. And in those areas you are competing against people trying to get a foot on the property ladder. It is dis-spiriting when you are trying to buy property and the advert says 'Cash Buyer Only'. Much more so when you have to look at those cash buyers to find somewhere liveable to rent I expect. My own rent (in Enfield) is up by the amount you are quoting.

There's a scattering of property on Rightmove for < £1000 in the general areas you've mentioned. If you bump the distance up to 20 miles you can still find yourself paying £900 ish just outside the M25.

If there are hidden pockets of cheap it's not being advertised on Rightmove. Gumtree's search functionality is dire but I can't see anything obvious advertised as 'in London' for 1000 PCM.


A similar intiative going on in the States http://www.vox.com/2015/5/28/8...

Matthew Brown

London is the mecca for Landlords and property millionaires. Nobody cares really, too busy pissing off the Russians with the whole Fifa scandal.


And of course it's not as easy as you'd think to just move to cheaper areas when moving costs are so incredibly high. Even if you avoid hiring vans or moving companies, most families on minimum wage won't have a deposit for a new place until after moving and getting theirs back. Plus there are hidden costs. Benefits recipients notbomly struggle to find landlords who will accept them, but to cover costs during the hiatus often caused to benefit payments when moving to a new area and updating details with benefits agencies.

Andrea Villa

great article guys !


It's hard coming from the North, attempting to get a career in publishing where work for the first few years is largely unpaid or minimum wage (requiring a second job like bar work, also at minimum wage).

After giving it two years and the majority of my savings I'm leaving London to head back to Yorkshire. It's all well and good having the career you always wanted but there's no quality of life here living on nothing.

May Dickson

As a thought to continuing this exercise despite it looking more and more depressing, a look at the different methods of travel would be useful. I have a couple of thoughts on what I would do if I had to work in central London.

1. Cycling (although I have no idea of the maintenance costs here)
2. Getting a bus from a further out zone to zone 2 and then getting on a train/tube with the cost then being a travel card only for zone 1 & 2.

This would provide you with slightly more money for rent, but I have no idea how long these methods would work!


For outside London but with cheaper rent/travel costs, might I suggest Grays/Basildon? The commuter trains are some of the cheapest, and South Essex is definitely somewhere seeing a spillover of people out of London who can no longer afford it.


While this article highlights an important point, it needs adjusting to reflect reality. The family earning £260 a week would be entitled to at least £6,600 a year in tax credits so the choices they would be faced with are different. They would probably also be entitled to other welfare support so it would be nice to see all this taken into account for a more accurate analysis.


Would you believe me when I say I had to turn down a £46/hr contract role in herts because it was going to cost me £350/week to stay in a tiny 1 bed serviced studio apartment. What a bloody joke. Pure Greed