A few days ago, as the London Overground was delayed yet again, I looked up at one of those '9x% of our trains ran on time in the last 3 months' posters, and thought to myself: "there's no way the overground has improved during the time that I've been in the UK. Or anything else in this country for that matter". But it's easy to complain about things being crap without actually checking them. So I did some research to find out if the things in this country that relate directly to my life have gotten better or worse during the last five years. It'll also be a good summary post to compare with five years from now, when the effects of the brexit will have come into full force.
To get to work I take the London Overground from Watford Junction to Euston. TFL has nice little yearly reports on the performance of the Overground , which they define as (iirc) 'percentage of trains that ran within 5 minutes of their scheduled time'. According to their yearly reports, the Overground as a whole, which includes a lot more lines than the one I take, had a performance of 94.8% in 2011, and 95.2% in 2015. The only data I could find pertaining specifically to my line date back to 2013, when the Watford-Euston line's performance was 96.64%. Last month it was 96.96%.
Things are not getting worse, apparently. The cost of taking public transport is increasing, but that's roughly in line with inflation. What (seriously) worries me is that TFL is constantly claiming that they're pouring all their profits right back into improving the network, yet they can barely manage even a 1% improvement over 5 years, and there's still signal failures and train issues almost every day. Worrisome.
Lastly, TFL reporting absolutely sucks. It's happened to me many times that a train was delayed 5 or more minutes, yet the online status report showed that there were no delays. I'm not sure if this is only happening for the Overground, but the tube lines do seem to get faster updates when something goes wrong there. It's easy to tell because the Bakerloo line shares its tracks with the Watford-Euston overground, and the status on the website updates much quicker for the Bakerloo than for the Overground when something goes wrong. I don't think this has improved much over the years, but don't have enough data to prove it.
Another area that obviously interests me is what kind of salary I can earn working in IT in London. I found it quite hard to get data on this as well. There's plenty of numbers floating around, but difficult to compare them because there's so many different job titles and qualifications out there. Speaking from anecdotal evidence, the numbers I found for average/higher-end Java developers in 2016 are higher than the Java job that I held for a while in 2010, but not significantly higher.
Lacking any other solid basis for comparison, the closest I could find to useful numbers was the average and median salary of someone working at Google. In 2011 the median salary of a Googler was £86.800, and in 2016 the average Googler salary is £160.000. I can't really use that to decide whether things got better or worse, since median is very different from average, but it's still interesting data points nonetheless.
It's amazing how quickly your opinion on house/apartment prices sways once you've bought something yourself. In the year that we were looking for a house or apartment the prices increased insanely quickly. When we started looking we were (barely) able to afford a small house in zone 7, but by the time we found an apartment all houses and bungalows were out of our price range.
Rightmove has some good data to confirm this . In 2011 the average price of a house sold in my area was between £260k and £320k. In 2016 it's between £390k and £430k. If I was still looking I'd feel pretty crap about this, but I guess we managed to move onto the quickly departing train just before it got away. Let's see how the brexit affects this, though..
I compared central London prices as well, just for shits and giggles, even though I'll never be able to afford anything there . In 2011 house prices were around £850k near where I work. In 2016 they're around £1M. That shit cray.
Ever since we signed for the neighborhood watch mailing list we're getting the occasional email about break-ins, theft, vandalism and so on. Since we've only lived here for less than a year we don't know how things were like 5 years ago in this area, but there's plenty of data available to compare. Additionally, we chose our area not in the least based on the low (relative) crime rate, which I'll get into later.
In 2011 my area had on average around 200 crimes reported per month . in 2016 that's 130. That's a pretty decent improvement. I compared my work area in Central London as well, which went down from 230 reports per month to 180 reports. Note that areas are not the same size and not the same number of inhabitants, so you can't cross-compare. I had always assumed that Ealing, the area I previously lived in, would have much higher crime rates, because it always seemed a lot more dodgier to me than where I live now. But I looked it up and it went down from ~150 reports in 2011 to ~130 reports in 2016. It improved less than my current area, but that's about all I can say about that.
Road incidents and accidents
Getting out of Greater London by car is a huge pain, even when you're in zone 7. I see a lot of bad drivers on the road, and it pisses me off every time. Apparently, and I still can't quite believe this, the UK is safer than the Netherlands when it comes to traffic related deaths . The statistics prove me wrong, but based on what I've seen people in the Netherlands drive way, way safer than anyone in Greater London. But them's the stats, so there you go. I'd rant here about the terrible quality of the road infrastructure in the UK which I think hasn't improved either, but I've no hard numbers on them, so I'll leave it at that.
In my local area there were around 110 serious or fatal incidents reported in 2011 . This number went up to ~120 in 2015. A mild increase, but hardly statistically significant. If you take a larger area of north-west Greater London, there were ~1400 incidents in 2011, which went down to about 1200 in 2015. I'm not sure if that increase is on par with the increase in car ownership .
One of the best sources of information when selecting a place to live is the deprivation index, which combines a bunch of useful indexes like income, crime rate, employment etc., and gives each area a relative ranking compared to all the other areas in England. The area I live in ranked better (lower depravity) than ~91% of all other areas in 2010 , but that went significantly down to ~83% in 2015 .
Even when checking the absolute numbers, both overall and for each important subdomain (income, crime, health, employment), my area got worse in every metric over the past five years. I really did not expect that. Given that the relative ranking dropped even further, apparently my area got worse at a a faster rate than the rest of the country. People in my area are now poorer, unhealthier, less employed and more criminal than five years ago.
This appears to contradict my crime rates findings, which suggests that the number of crimes reported decreased over the years. The only way I can explain this result is that the area of the deprivation index is quite small compared to the crime reporting area. It's quite possible that my immediate local area has gotten slightly worse, and my greater local area has still improved. In fact, looking at my county's score, it did improve slightly over the past five years. But not significantly.
I was quite wrong about the public transport I use getting worse over the years, but it didn't get much better either, which is definitely not a good sign. The deprivation index roughly confirmed what I suspected, although I didn't think my (tiny, immediate, local) area was that much better five years ago. The thing that surprised me the most was how much the crime rate dropped over the past five years. There's very clear progress there, and I'm very happy with that.
For future research it would be interesting to compare this with neighborhoods in other countries. I wonder if other countries I've lived in have experienced similar trends in crime, transport and deprivation. My suspicion is that the UK is a bit slow to change, but that's something to find out.
Cool depravity map bonus: http://dclgapps.communities.gov.uk/imd/idmap.html