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Working in a low-paid dead-end job in a call centre, living with the parents and approaching 30 an old friend of mine made a decision – to pack their bags and head for New Zealand on a 12 month work visa. This was a few years back and they haven’t looked back, moving after their first year to Australia.

And they’re not the only one. Recently I’ve noticed more and more people have been following in this intrepid friends footsteps, in fact rarely a day goes by without hearing about some other person moving to Australia. But what do the stats have to say?

My first stop is the official statistics produced by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship. What I’m interested in particularly is the numbers of working holiday visas – these are the ones granted to young people aged 18-30 and which last 12 months.


And here it is:

Though the figure has fallen slightly for 2009/10 the trend over the period shows a gradual increase suggesting that in the past few years an increasing number of young people are taking the opportunity to leave the UK for Australia using a Working Holiday visa.

Rather interestingly the graph shows the peak period for the number of Working Holiday visas granted was in 2008/09 coinciding with the recession. During this period some 40 182 Working Holiday visas were granted to UK citizens.

Part of the explanation may be the rising popularity of a ‘gap-year’, but as the visas are open to all people aged for 18-30 there may be another group taking increasing advantage of the Working Holiday visa programme;  Twentysomethings who lack ties such as a family or mortgage (due to their unaffordability) and who find career aspirations unfulfilled, either through unemployment or the growth of the dead-end job and who therefore find both possible and attractive the prospect of leaving the UK.


changing habits; more food and clothing being sold online

changing habits; more food and clothing being sold online

I’ve always had a bit of an interest in retail, which led to my not-so-long-ago unscientific walk-round of the West Quay shopping centre, so couldn’t resist looking at the latest stats on the retail sales.  Probably the biggest trend of the last decade has to be the growth in internet shopping This graph, based on ONS data, shows the year on year growth in total retail sales for January 2013.

A couple of changes here are interesting. The first is the growth internet sales among predominantly food retailers. According to the ONS in January 2013 £96.2 million, some 3.7% of sales for food stores, was online which was a record proportion for the segment.

This is undoubtedly down to the rise in supermarket online shopping. I know it’s a service I’ve been using more often in the past 12 months, and will do more of in the future and now there’s click-and-collect. It all adds up to a major change in habits, although in many ways it’s a throwback to the not-so-distant past where we all used to get our milk and papers delivered to our door, a world destroyed by the supermarkets with their impressive product ranges and all-in-one-place convenience. The internet has succeeded by delivering our cake and letting us eat it.

Another interesting point, not in terms of size, but perhaps significance, is the growth of internet sales in the textile, clothing and footwear stores sector. In January 2013 a not insignificant 10.6% of sales in this group were made via the internet. This is significant as this is a segment where the internet would seem to have some distinct disadvantages over in-person shopping; Whilst items like books, CDs and DVDs are all standardised products clothing is much less standardised with sizes varying between stores  hence the fitting-room, which, at least for the time-being, is not something which can be replicated easily on the internet.

Despite this however, online sales have grown and businesses such as ASOS (part of the non-store retailing group) have thrived. A change in our habits perhaps, are we more willing to buy without trying on, or to buy, try at home and return?  If so then we’ve only seen the beginning of the transformation the internet will bring to the high-street.

It seems like a strange question. Surely the Premier League, which generated 2.5 billion Euros in 2010/11 – making it by a long-shot the highest  revenue generating league in the continent (according to the Deloitte 2012 Annual Review of Football Finance), which attracts the cream of the worlds footballing talent, and is breaking all records in securing £5 billion for its TV rights alone, is far more successful than the Championship, a mere second tier league.

But if we define success in terms of the ability of clubs to attract spectators, as this graph shows in the period since 1985/86, the year English football attendances fell to a post-war low,  what is now known as the Championship has significantly out-performed the Premiership, not in terms of total attendances,   (the Premiership still draws considerably more spectators – on average – per game) or the total increase in numbers (again for much of the period the gap between the two in terms of average attendances has grown), rather the rate at which attendances have grown. As the graph shows if we take the 1985/86 season as the starting point, in percentage terms the growth rate for average attendances over the season in the Championship has been much higher than for the Premier League

So what possible explanations exist for this?

1.) A mathematical quirk

As any student of GDP growth will tell you in percentage terms it is much easier to record high levels of growth when starting from a low-base. In the analysis here The starting figures for the Championship and the Premier League are 7688 and 19563 respectively, so even a lower increase in the total figure for the Championship could see a much higher growth rate in percentage terms. As this graph shows, for much of the period, and particularly during the 1990s, the size of the gap between the season average attendance of the two divisions actually grew.


It is worth noting however, that both League 1 and League 2, also starting from a low base have displayed rated of growth more in line with the Premier league, so a mathematical quirk alone is an insufficient explanation for the Championship’s runaway success.

2.)  The Premier league is too expensive

In economic terms the Championship is like a rump steak to the Premier Leagues fillet i.e a cheaper alternative. Whilst this is sure to anger many football fans who will insist that their club is the club, the question has to be asked as to whether being comparatively cheaper than the Premier League has helped the Championship to higher levels of attendance growth.

It is hard to say whether this is the case, particularly as it is unclear just how much cheaper, if at all, the Championship is compared to the Premier League. As this BBC survey shows in terms of some ticket prices, particularly at the lower end of the range there are cases where Championship clubs have higher prices, for instance Man City’s cheapest season ticket is £275, whilst Hull City in the Championship offer their cheapest at £485.

3.) The Premier League lacks competitiveness 

Along with high prices this is another accusation which has been continually leveled at the Premier League, that it is just uncompetitive, that at the start of the season we know who will win it, or who the top four will be, and that we also know who will be relegated. As the Deloitte report acknowledges in the 2010/11 season there was:

a particularly strong correlation in the Premier League between league finishing position and a club’s wage ranking, implying that, all other things being equal, spending more on wages translates to on-pitch success.

Whereas in the Championship, the report adds, the correlation “remains relatively weak” which it suggests is indicative of the competitive nature of the league.

Whilst this leaves little doubt as to the relative competitiveness of both leagues, the actual affect this has on attendances is more of a grey-area. In their book Why England Lose and Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski state that previous research in this area has generated mixed results and they themselves suggest that an unbalanced league can provide more interest. Comparing the Premier League to the much more equal US league, MLS, they argue:

the MLS lacks one of the joys of an unbalanced league; the David v Goliath match. And one reason why fans enjoy those encounters is that surprisingly often, given their respective budgets, David wins.

As someone who counts their most memorable ever match as the time Southampton beat Manchester United 6-3 it is hard to argue with this, though to say the Championship does not have ‘big-teams’ would be to do it an injustice, perhaps it’s success is in its combination of the two; big clubs and a competitive league.

4.) Supply and demand

Ever tried getting hold of a ticket for a Premier League game? It’s not always easy with a number of games selling-out. In the case of sell-outs demand exceeds supply which is in effect capped by stadium size. The solution – increasing stadium size – also isn’t necessarily easy. Notwithstanding the expense there is the need need for planning permission which can often lead to years of wrangling. According to the Deloitte report in 2010/11 average capacity utilisation for the Premier league was 93% whilst the figure for the total Football League stood at a much lower 58%. If supply did match demand for the Premier League it may well be that attendances and attendance growth would be much higher.

Overall – More than a quirk…

Overall  whilst there may be an element of mathematical quirk to the results in the opening graph, this alone does not explain the Championships strong performance. It seems quite possible that a cap on attendances imposed by stadium size has also acted to slow growth in the Premier League, but again the Championship has no more advantage here than League 1, or League  2 clubs which it has also out-performed. Price too (particularly in the current ecomomic climate) along with  competitiveness may also have played a part, along with other factors we have not covered, but overall it seems the Championship has experienced a perfect-storm of factors enabling it to grow at a rate faster than the Premier League. As the Deloitte report states the Championship is the highest revenue generating second-tier league in the world, and that’s more than a mathematical quirk.

Crowded tube trains – a recipe for anxiety?

It’s 9.30am, just a little over a week ago, and I’ve just managed to squeeze myself onto a packed tube train at London Bridge station – this being the third train to arrive since I took my place on the platform. Grasping a rail to steady myself as the train jerks along I find myself in the kind of close proximity to total strangers which is normally reserved for family, close friends, or else lovers.  A man nearby sneezes leading to the people crushed up against him to wince. Thankfully for me this journey is a one-off, but for the majority of passengers in their smart business attire this must be part of their daily routine, squished together like a glutenous mass of red-blood cells fueling the body of some greater being. At this moment I start wondering to myself ‘just why are Londoners’ so anxious?’

I know Londoners are particularly anxious, because when asked by the Office for National statistics ‘Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?’ where nought is ‘not at all’ and ten is ‘completely’  44.5% of Londoners provided a ‘high, or very high’ rating of between 4 and 10 compared to 41.8% in the next highest region, the North East, and 35.5% in the lowest, Northern Ireland. The question was asked as part of the attempt to measure national well-being and featured alongside other questions in which respondents were asked to rate their overall life satisfaction, the extent to which they felt the things they did in their life were worthwhile and their happiness the previous day – all of which Londoners tended to provide a greater amount of poor ratings compared to the rest of the UK.

So why the anxiety? What makes London so different from the rest of the UK? It can’t be just the impact of being crammed on the tube – though that may well explain some of the anxiety. London is particularly prosperous relative to the rest of the UK, but can that really explain why people in London are more anxious? One explanation could be in the way that prosperity is divided; London is by far the most unequal place in the UK with the ratio between the hourly earnings of the 99th and 1st percentile, based on 2011 figures, being 16.2. By contrast the most equal, Wales, has a ratio less than half London’s at 7.0.

Source: ONS. Well-being data Annual Population Survey, Office for National Statistics data from April 2011 – March 2012. Income data for April 2011 from Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

In their book, The Spirit Level; Why Equality is Better for Everyone Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that though inequality is not the cause of what have been rising levels of anxiety..

Greater Inequality seems to heighten people’s social evaluation anxieties by increasing the importance of social status

They continue that the more the inequality, the more status competition and the higher the levels status anxiety, but were this to be the case we would expect to see a relationship between inequality and the levels of anxiety and a regional level, at least, this appears not to be the case as this scatterplot shows:

Source: ONS

Of course even a fairly strongly correlated result would be far from conclusive owing to the small sample size, but going back to the data The South East which has the  second highest inequality ratio of 9.6 had a fairly middling proportion of people recording high, or very high responses to the anxiety question, 38.8% – lower for instance that the much more equal North East (7.6 & 41.8%).

Perhaps however, it is something else about London. In her seminal work Saskia Sassen (2001), who famously analysed increased income inequality and polarisation in what she termed ‘global cities’,  observed about London:

As in New York, a distinct lifestyle has emerged, and there is a sufficiently critical mass of young, high-income workers engaged in high levels of consumption that it makes itself felt in certain parts of London and the region. New, elegant shops and restaurants – and sharp increases in the prices of housing – manifest the new lifestyle. There has also been high-income gentrification of some parts of London, including areas of inner London once inhabited by lower-income people, especially minorities. (p.272-3)

What Sassen is pointing to is that high levels of inequality have helped to shape the city, both physically and culturally, creating an urban form which may well be more conducive to the sort of status anxiety mentioned by Wilkinson and Pickett which may in turn explain its inhabitants higher than average levels of anxiety. Finally the tube disgorges me at Old Street and thankful and relieved I emerge into the grey morning and gulp down the (relatively) fresh air on the surface. Maybe it is the tube after all, or else as they say on the underground, mind the gap.


Office for National Statistics (2012) First ONS Annual Experimental Subjective Well-being Results 24th July 2012

Sassen, S. (2001) The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo, (2nd edition) Oxford; Princeton University Press

Wilkinson, R. & Pickett, K. (2010) The Spirit Level; Why Equality is Better for Everyone London:Penguin