Covid 19: The generational housing divide

Amongst many of the financial issues Covid-19 has wrought in the short run, the social issues are no less damaging but are not quite as obvious.

A report by Lockdown living, finds there is a stark generational housing divide. The report finds that young people are more likely to be locked down in smaller, overcrowded homes with no access to gardens than older age groups (Hill, 2020).

While it may be no surprise to those aware of the situation younger people find themselves in, particularly with regards to housing, what is concerning is the scale and length of time for those affected. The report goes on to conclude, “both striking and worrying as we enter a reopening phase that will see many people continue to work from home, alongside the risks of further local or national lockdowns” (Hill, 2020).

The unintended consequences of local lockdowns or increased working from home have not been taken into account. Many of which could be quite serious as many policies devised by government over the course of the past few months, have been understandably rushed.

Race and Ethnicity

This is not just a case of generational housing inequality. Race and Ethnicity again feature heavily.

It comes as no surprise that the report found that ethnicity plays a major role in determining the quality of household living conditions.

Nearly 40% of under-16s from black and minority ethnic households have no obvious garden, compared with 17% of white children. Close to a quarter live in a poor-quality environment.

Ethnic minorities are more likely to be in living in poverty in the UK. Alex Beer, the welfare programme head at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “This report provides further evidence that Covid-19 is exacerbating many existing inequalities, with younger people and people from minority ethnic groups disproportionately affected.”

This deepening of inequalities comes at the end of a decade of austerity, numerous housing inequalities. It will not come as any surprise to see the deepest recession ever on record, hit disadvantaged and minorities harder still


Hill, A. (2020) ‘Covid-19 exposes stark generational housing divide, UK report says’, The Guardian, 3rd July [Online]. Available at (Accessed 14 July 2020).

The Varsity Line: Connecting Oxford and Cambridge

The Varsity Line connecting Oxford and Cambridge is due to re-open in 2030. Bidwells cites it as a new line, however, there was a Oxford-Cambridge connection until closed in 1968 due to the beeching cuts. This line while not following the old route (a lot of it has been built over) is neither old or new. The line is reopening (or being built anew) due to poor policy decisions fifty years prior.

This line out of many suggested in the South East is the most promising in terms of reducing inequality. This owes much to housing which is a major part of the National Infrastructure Commissions strategy (Bidwells, 2018).

As Bidwells puts it, “The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford (CaMkOx) Knowledge Arc is of vital economic importance in the UK; home to leading international universities and science and technology companies” (Bidwells, 2018).

Western Section from Oxford to Bedford

Phase 1 – of this section included upgrading the line from Oxford to Bicester Village. Chiltern railways has run regular services from Marylebone to Oxford since December 2016 on this section.

Phase 2 – will require upgrading and rebuilding the routes from Bicester Village to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury (due to open in 2022 and 2024, respectively).

The Western Section will also provide a link between Milton Keynes and London Marylebone via Aylesbury, and services may also extend to Reading in the future via existing rail lines. A connection such as this can only be positive. Reading is a large town with strong business and manufacturing sector, connecting these routes up to cities where the research is conducted in the case of Cambridge, Oxford and Milton Keynes with less well off towns such as Sandy and St.Neots.

The case for the Varsity line is strong. Linking the Great Western (branch), Chiltern, Great Eastern, West Coast and Midland Mainlines (Rail, 2020). It also links manufacturing and fast growing pharmaceutical and tech towns such as Bedford and Milton Keynes with cities that have two of the best research universities in the world.

Central Section (Bedford to Cambridge)

Network Rail carefully considered 20 different potential routes between Bedford and Cambridge before deciding that the corridor via Sandy offered the best overall value. This includes potential economic benefits, reduced journey time, local population growth and employment, operating costs, and forecast passenger demand.

The old railway line between Bedford, Sandy and Cambridge was closed in the 1960s and some of the land has since been sold and developed. This makes the Central Section the most costly and challenging part of the new Varsity Line.

Inequality and Economic Opportunity

The line has potential to increase the distribution of income and wealth along several counties and poorer towns such as Sandy. This coupled with investment in housing (of which has begun in the Claydon area), particularly the increase in social housing in towns on the line would provide economic opportunity to social housing tenants.

On that note, it is promising that the goal is to deliver one million new homes in the Arc by 2050, through settlement expansion and the development of up to five new towns or villages (Bidwells, 2018). In agreement with the NIC on recommending that the government takes a lead on new settlements through a single delivery masterplan (Bidwells, 2018). This clearly is a long term goal, but will need to be checked through outside independent non-governmental organisations (NGOs), lobbyists and by policymakers. As it passes from government to government, through the years it can easily fall off the policy agenda. However, it takes the political pressure off local authorities.

Bidwells have done some work on how this can delivered and implemented effectively. Which will be covered in another article.

Interconnectedness and future-proofing for capacity is the key

As previously mentioned the proposed route connects to seven mainlines these being; the Chiltern main line, West Coast Main Line, Midland Main Line, East Coast Main Line and the West Anglia Main Line.

This interconnectedness is great and should be applauded but why not increase this to HS2? As long as speeds are max 100mph this may mean additional services from Cambridge/Oxford to the North via HS2 could be operated? Fanciful but its an option to increase the connectivity between the North and South of the country.

Building new lines is all well and good but they need to be connected to existing mainlines to allow for the introduction of additional services. Along with this future-proofing for increased capacity must to be taken into account. It will create an increase in cost now but the potential savings could be significant. A double track may be suitable now, for instance, but if long distance connections are made through using HS2 or other mainlines then will it be suitable 20 years later?

The cost may may be much higher building this in from the beginning, rail infrastructure needs to be future-proofed. It makes sense to consider connectivity and capacity when building new rail lines.

The green light has been given for the phase 2. We await to see what, if any impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the timeframe of this much needed infrastructure project. Policymakers should not shy away from making bold policy decisions in a post-pandemic world in order to keep people employed and future proof the economy.

Next up: Using behavioural science to increase economic growth and the sustainability on the Varsity Line.

References and useful links

Bidwells – Well informed (20/08/2019) Varsity Line Stations-Infrastructure [Online]. Available at (Accessed 29 April 2020).

Rail Magazine (February 12th – February 25th 2020) – East West Rail gathers pace.

To help England’s north, link it up – The Economist

To help England’s north, link it up” was published in The Economist’s Leaders section in the Dec 18th 2019 Edition. Focusing on Boris Johnson’s northern strategy, with a sub-headline “Public spending on transport in the north is barely half what it is in the south-east. That must change.”

The article begins by stating that Boris Johnson “relies on the north like no recent Tory leader” (The Economist, 2019). In relation to the recent Conservative victory at the December 2019 General Election, that saw the party take seats in the North that had been held by the Labour party for decades.

“Although it is closer to Manchester than Brighton is to London, the trains take 20 minutes longer and are a quarter as frequent. Inter-city connections in the north are a mess. By train, it is quicker to travel 250 miles (400km) to Newcastle from London than it is to get to Newcastle from Liverpool, just 120 miles away” (The Economist, 2019). This highlights the glaring inequality the North faces in comparison to the South. What this suggests is that along with HS2 investment in other parts of the rail infrastructure is needed.

With the exception of reopening of lines closed by the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s, electrification is one solution as diesel trains are heavier and involve more moving parts then electric trains thus they are more unreliable. However, another speedy decision as recommended by the economist does not involve rail at all. To please new conservative voters the Johnson government can focus on improving country bus services.

As the predicted costs of HS2 surpass £100 billion it is important that policymakers see the broader picture. The West Coast Mainline (WCML) is currently operating over capacity. Years of lack of investment and neglect in British rail infrastructure has created this problem. Building a high speed rail link may have been cheaper in years gone by under a nationalised rail system, however, that was the past.

Arguments regarding the capacity of the WCML have centred on whether a capacity issue exists. However, as the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMECHE) states “Over the past 20 years rail passenger traffic has doubled, and it seems certain to further increase.”(IMECHE, 2019). Later going on to further state that “the alternative of increasing capacity by giving existing lines additional tracks would be hugely disruptive and probably cost about the same” (IMECHE, 2019).

The important thing the IMECHE article notes is that HS2 phase one is not just about a link from London to Birmingham, which the media and commentators often focus on. It is an integrated line in itself. HS2 will run on the existing railway and on HS2 phase one, the high-speed line from London Euston which will join the West Coast Main Line (WCML) near Lichfield with a spur to Birmingham (IMECHE, 2019). Once completed, only three of its 10 trains per hour from London will go to Birmingham (IMECHE, 2019). This will allow for more capacity out of London Euston.

The IMECHE then argues that the extra capacity released will provide Euston with 11,300 peak-hour commuter seats compared with the present 6,400 seats and that it will also provide more freight train paths (IMECH, 2019). Thus, the citymetric claim that there is not integration with the rest of the network, does not hold true.

In Conclusion

Linking the North up requires an improvement of bus and rail services, along with HS2. Increased platform lengths, new rolling stock, better disability provision, electrification and more integration with local bus services so the plusbus scheme can really come into its own in the North. These joined up efforts will aid everyone in the North and may even get some to ditch their cars.

Most of this will be expensive but for too long investment in public transport in the UK has been neglected (not just rail) meaning high costs come at once and will be higher then any incremental investment would have been over a period of time.

However, Policymakers should not shy away from this and should take this bold step to transform not just rail, but public transport services in across the country.

Be sure to check back in on the rail infrastructure and inequality section of my blog.

Meat: A threat to our planet?

Having watched the BBC documentary recently on the topic of Meat production and the threat it poses to our planet. I thought a short assessment on the documentary would be appropriate.

Largely, this documentary focused on the US and South America. However, the overall message was applicable no matter where the location. The current form and sheer scale of meat production is unsustainable. This only increases when we factor in global population growth in all continents.

This is the documentary description

Following on from 2018’s award-winning Drowning In Plastic, science and wildlife presenter Liz Bonnin is travelling around the world to investigate the impact that our hunger for meat is having on our planet’s environment.

Reports from the IPCC and the FAO revealed that the global livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the running of all the world’s transport combined – and it’s polluting our air, land, and water. So just how bad is the problem, and what can we do about it?

Liz travels from Texan megafarms, where 50,000 cows belch out vast amounts of planet-warming methane, to giant pig farms producing colossal quantities of polluting manure. In the Amazon rainforest she discovers how beef farming is a leading cause of deforestation, and comes face to face with a baby harpy eagle – a species rapidly losing its habitat as cattle farmers cut down the forest. Feeding our planet’s livestock is also leading to huge biodiversity loss and, in South Africa, Liz discovers how this is affecting life in our oceans, helping to drive the African penguin towards extinction.

Liz also meets the scientists and entrepreneurs urgently looking for solutions. At a university in California, Liz puts her hand directly into the stomach of a cow – all in the name of reducing methane emissions. In North Carolina she meets an entrepreneur who’s using his manure to power local homes. And in San Francisco, she becomes one of the first people in the world to try a lab-made chicken nugget – a product that might reduce the environmental damage caused by meat production.

Liz finishes her journey on a small farm in Wales, where she meets a family who have shifted their relationship with meat by taking the bold step of slaughtering their own animals.

At the end of her journey, Liz starts to assess her own attitude to meat, and questions what we can all do to save our fragile planet.

Twitter lit up throughout the documentary with arguments for veganism, which in itself is not the solution. Changing the behaviour of millions or potentially billions of people is difficult at best. Many advocates of veganism, advocate total veganism which in itself is unsustainable.

As I have argued previously, what we need to promote globally is a balanced diet. The dangers of unintended consequences loom large promoting such a diet, for example the land mass to for a plant based diet may be significantly less but the consequences of a loss of biodiversity have not been adequately considered. Far better to promote incremental change and balance with regards to how people eat, rather then total change as it is simply impossible to foresee every consequence of any action.

In conclusion
It is great to see that the media is finally broadcasting programmes that make the public aware of the environmental problems some of the food we consume can cause. However, this is just the beginning.

Moving forward

What is needed by everyone though is more focus on the security of food and population sustainability. Whether it be crops or meat, overall the climate will force us to change our diet. This will create ‘food deserts’ in some areas of the world, where little or nothing can grow or be produced. Overall the BBC made a good start, but more focus on the benefits of genetic modification and the circular effects of food waste/losses in different regions of the world would be something to explore.

Climate change and chickens in Nigeria

Climate change is causing serious problems across the world, from wildfires to freak storms. A topic that is often neglected is the current and future effect of the changing climate on the supply of food.

Developing countries will be affected disproportionality more then developed countries by the effects of climate change. In terms of food security, food loss is the largest food issue affecting developing countries.

In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rural smallholders routinely function as both producers and consumers (Morris, 2018, p.10). For this reason, both food loss (losses which occur at production level) and food waste (losses at point of retail/consumption) affect the approximately 80% of smallholder farmers in Nigeria. In comparison, although around 70% of UK farms are owner occupied, however, no smallholder farmers rely primarily on their own farms to feed (DEFRA, 2009, p.99).

This makes the article titled How to roast a chicken: Climate change and farming in Nigeria by Aljazeera concerning. The subtitle sets out the real issue that African farmers will have to grapple with for the future; Extreme heat is worsening economic inequality among African farmers – and raising the spectre of future food shortages.

The article points out the losses Nigerian farmers are making on smallholder farms particularly in northern Nigeria, where most recent temperatures have spiked to 36c with farmer Olusola John who states that the severe heat has been affecting his 600 chickens (Mbamalu, 2019).

Farmer Olusola dreams of building a modern-style chicken house that could minimise his heat-related losses (Mbamalu, 2019). However, such a structure could cost as much as 19 million naira ($55,000) – more than the profits that he could recoup by selling his chickens (Mbamalu, 2019). Not only do farmers on the continent face difficulties with agricultural knowledge-transfer (which has always existed in some form and that I have reported at length), but they face the threat of climate change reducing production and deepening inequality.

Adedoyin Idowu, a senior lecturer at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta states that in Nigeria, mortality rates for poultry are increasing “to the level of at least 15 percent per annum” (Mbamalu, 2019). Naturally, this loss is not as severe on farms with modern technology, where yields and profits are higher (Mbamalu, 2019). With high economic growth rates in Nigeria the gap between those who can afford modern technology and those who cannot will surely increase.

This means agricultural producers who are wealthy enough to mitigate the effects of global warming can plant more productive crops and raise more poultry and livestock (Mbamalu, 2019). This is why it is the more affluent Nigerian farmers who are now controlling the market, says Merlin Uwalaka, an environmental economist at the University of Alberta (Mbamalu, 2019). For Uwalaka, even a slight change in the balance of the ecosystem can be enough to plummet low-income Nigerians into dire poverty. This is particularly and issue when roughly 47 percent of the population is living in poverty, according to the World Data Lab (Mbamalu, 2019).

More government intervention and points to note

How can Nigeria address its agricultural needs? The article finds:

“The government must intensify its efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change on farmers,” says Adenike Adediran, a project manager for the International Climate Change Development Initiative. “Research producing relevant data should be carried out. This would bring to the forefront the impact of climate change, and [would] create awareness amongst all stakeholders” (Mbamalu, 2019).

Nigerian farmers say that unless the government provides that basic support, the only way they can afford to take measures to address extreme heat is to take out loans from banks that can charge interest rates as high as 28 percent (Mbamalu, 2019).

The article does not include any suggestions on how to improve agricultural knowledge-transfer (the circulation of agricultural knowledge) or pool resources in local communities which can be a cost effective means of reducing losses. Whilst it is true national governments can, and should do much more to reduce the impacts of climate change on farmers.

Bottom-up interventions such as pooling of money or materials through NGOs and local communities can go a long way to solving this crisis. Behavioural instruments could also be trialled to get those farmers that are more economically better off, to share their resources and knowledge with the benefit of decreased losses and increased production for both parties.

This demonstrates the complexities and wide issues facing smallholders not only in Nigeria but across the African continent. Only through joined up policymaking, increased resource pooling, and sharing can such pressing food security issues related to climate change be mitigated. States should work harder to make sure circulation of knowledge is efficient, loans more readily available with terms that are reasonable, and they should be more willing to work at a wider level through the African Union and other international organisations.


Mbamalu, S. (2019) How to roast a chicken: Climate change and farming in Nigeria [Online]. Available at (Accessed 21 July 2019)

Morris, M. (2018) South-South Cooperation: An analysis of agricultural knowledge-transfer implementation influencing smallholder food losses – An analysis utilising the case of Kenya and Ghana (August 2018)

Phillips, C. (2019) Climate change is creating catastrophic wildfires | World Economic Forum [Online]. Available at (Accessed 21 July 2019)

June 2019 Food Thinkers seminar

A food thinkers event will be taking place next month at City, University of London. I will be attending. Hope to meet some fellow food thinkers, policymakers and colleagues there. Details are below.

What does viewing food as a system and resilience mean for the practice of coherent policy making?

With Bob Doherty (University of York and DEFRA)

Chaired by Professor Corinna Hawkes, Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London

Monday 24 June, 5.30pm – 7.00pm

The UK is facing the biggest overhaul of UK agrifood policy since the end of the Second World War. EU Exit, 25-year Environment plan, National Food Strategy and Agricultural bill signal the need for coherent policy development. It has become something of a truism in the burgeoning field of food studies to describe food as constituting a ‘system’. Yet this concept is invoked far more often than applied and there are still relatively few contributions that succeed in delineating an explicit conceptualisation of the food system. The contributions that have been made share an understanding that food needs to be studied holistically in order to capture the multiple activities, interactions and outcomes associated with its production, exchange, consumption and governance. The implications are also that the practice of policy making also needs to be conducted in a more holistic way.

In this context, the Chief Scientists office at the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have set-up a systems programme team to develop a framework to put systems thinking and sound evidence at the centre of the future policy formulation process. This task is easier said than done given the complexity of the food system and the various ways it intersects with other social, health and environmental systems.

At the same time, resilient thinking is now extensively used in policymaking and raises questions such as: what has led to the current state of the food system, what is the ‘desired state’? Who gets to define this? What and who create(s) the stresses and shocks on the food system?

In this Food Thinkers, Bob Doherty will discuss the implications of understanding food as a system and the concept of resilience for future coherent policy formulation. This will be followed by a panel discussing the implications for seeing food as part of the system for the practice of food policy.

Bob Doherty is Professor of Marketing and N8 Agrifood Chair at the University of York and leads a 4-year interdisciplinary research programme on food resilience titled ‘IKnowFood’ (Global Food Security fund). Bob is also the research theme leader for food in the York Environmental Sustainability Research Institute (YESI). In addition, he has recently been seconded into UK Government Department, DEFRA as a policy fellow to work on Food Systems policy development. Bob specializes in research on the management aspects of social enterprise hybrid organizations competing in the food industry. He is currently a trustee on the board of the Fairtrade Foundation. Prior to moving into academia Bob spent 5-years as the Head of Sales and Marketing at the Fairtrade pioneer Divine Chocolate Ltd.

This seminar is free to attend but tickets are allocated on a first come first served basis so please do register to secure your space. Please also feel free to forward this invitation on to colleagues.

If you have any questions about this event please email:

Monday 24 June 2019

5.30pm – 7.00pm

Lecture Theatre B200, University Building

City, University of London

Register with eventbrite here

Climate impacts on food security

Among the most significant impacts of climate change is the potential increase of food insecurity and malnutrition (WFP, 2019). Post-Harvest food losses (PHL) on the African continent are of increasing concern with a rapidly growing population, in Kenya and Ghana for example they comprise of an estimated 30-50% of production at various points in the value chain (Morris, 2018, p.5).

Thus, as the climate changes with increasing desertification, the pressures of feeding populations where food is already scares will increase exponentially. Only international awareness of the effect climate change has on food security can possibly provide the correct funding, network solutions and distribution of knowledge to assist those at the local (street-level) in reducing PHL’s.

The image above depicts how climate change shapes food insecurity across the world (Carbon Brief, 2015). The map shows that climate change will increase pressure on food supplies primarily in the global south. The map that is linked to is supposed to be interactive at the carbon brief website, however, a technical problem is preventing this at the moment.