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Mind the Gap

London’s complexity through an American eye

Marketplace Staff May 23, 2014

There are startling reasons why London’s wealth distribution caught our eye from the states: the five wealthiest families in the U.K. have more money than the poorest 20 percent of the population. By 2020, an estimated 800,000 children will be living below the poverty line. London was recently passed over by New York and Singapore to claim the top spot as the city in the world with the most economic clout. 

Marketplace explored the growing income inequality in the U.K. and London over a week’s time. As income inequality has become a primary economic concern in the U.S., especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Marketplace has focused reporting in recent months on what income inequality’s impact is on how we work and live. But we also wanted to see what our neighbors across the pond had to say about living in a society where unequal wealth distribution is the norm.

First, we learned that London’s real estate has skyrocketed in value, making realtors happy, and critics crying “bubble.” Sound familiar, Americans?

We saw, too, how poor Londoners are being priced out of neighborhoods they live in and were raised in, and even wealthy residents are concerned. We toured the bustling markets across the city in an everyday adventure filled with bright citrus and fresh fish.

We ended the week with a report from 30-feet below ground level in the notorious sewers of London. There’s a campaign underway to build a new super sewer system to replace the current one that frequently overflows into the Thames River.  We took a tour of London’s sewers, which have a surprisingly excellent way of exposing what Londoners keep and discard in a shifting economy. 

Even though there are a lot of concerns about its economic progress, London still has some things going for it: the PwC Cities of Opportunity Index (PDF) noted the city still “finishes first in technology readiness, economic clout and city gateway – all measures of its stature as a thriving centre of the world economy.”

We leave you with musical inspiration from our trip: 

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