Subscriber OnlyAbroad

‘I left Dublin because it was so expensive. Now London is equally expensive’

Meet the Irish people struggling to make ends meet in the British capital during the cost-of-living crisis

When Weston Clendinning moved from Co Armagh to London in the hope of furthering his music career, he hadn’t expected it to take several months to find somewhere to live.

The 26-year-old singer and guitarist moved over with a friend in September 2021, with his car, not realising it would in fact become their home for at least a month.

“We basically ate at Wetherspoons every day,” he laughs.

Clendinning had already spent months looking for places online but thought he hadn’t been successful in finding somewhere due to not being available for viewings.


“We viewed endless amounts of houses and we ended up offering places six months in advance and they were still turning us down,” he says. “We eventually found a one-bed flat in Fulham, where we had to pay six months upfront, I slept on the kitchen floor, and my friend slept in the bedroom.”

Clendinning isn’t the only Irish expat who has found themselves in this situation.

Private rents in the United Kingdom are growing at the fastest annual rate since 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). London has been hit the hardest, with the median monthly rent in the capital now nearly twice that of the rest of England.

According to property site Rightmove, the average advertised rent in London is now £2,343 (€2,674) a month.

According to flat sharing website Spareroom there are now seven renters for every room available in London.

Rising rents coupled with people returning to the city following the pandemic has fuelled London’s housing crisis.

“It took my girlfriend about five or six months for her and her sister to get somewhere and she was on the verge of having to quit her job and move back because she couldn’t get accommodation,” Clendinning says. “The prices were through the roof. You had two girls that both had normal jobs making £30,000 a year salary [and] weren’t making the threshold to find anywhere semi-liveable.

“They had to ask for help to get six months rent upfront before they eventually found somewhere where they’re now having to pay £2,500 a month for a normal enough house.”

Cost-of-living crisis

Finding accommodation isn’t the only issue in the city, the cost-of-living crisis has also made life in London less accessible for many Irish expats.

Emma McManus (28) from Leixlip, Co Kildare, says she is unable to save at all at the moment and is terrified to put the heating on.

“You’re more hyperalert, I guess,” she says. “I’m also not able to fly home as much as I used to. The flights aren’t as cheap as they used to be, you’re looking at an extra £100 in a month if you’re wanting to fly home.”

McManus, who works for an ending violence against women and girls charity, says her sector is poorly paid but they are not in it for the money. That said, she has seen many colleagues with families struggling.

“We’re supporting our clients who are financially abused, in hardship and poverty, we’re getting them foodbank vouchers and things like that but then we’re having to do the same ourselves. Some of my colleagues are having to go to foodbanks as well, especially those who have kids.”

However, although the price of living in London is a concern, McManus said the city is full of opportunity.

“The cost-of-living crisis is showing how low paid people are and how we actually need to stand up in solidarity. There’s a bit of social change happening with it too which I think will be positive long term.”

Living from pay cheque to pay cheque

Kate Gunnar (29), from Co Kilkenny, says she moved to Tooting in June 2021 for a change of scenery but was shocked by how expensive it is to live there.

“I was a primary school teacher and taught in Dublin for three years but I wanted something different,” she says.

When she first moved to the capital she did some supply teaching and office administration before landing a HR role at an Irish construction company.

“I signed my contract on a really low salary of £28,000 thinking it would be okay. It was fine for the first few months but then in April things started to go up, like our electricity bill.

“I wasn’t even spending money on socialising, it was just getting the Tube into work and that was costing me around £250 a month. I was continuously going into my overdraft and I had even saved up a bit from teaching. I was considering moving back to Ireland as things weren’t feasible.”

Gunnar eventually changed jobs and is now working for a law firm for a better salary.

“Going up in salary has helped so much, I feel I can breathe again,” she says. “I never want to be in that situation again going from pay cheque to pay cheque. The opportunities are keeping me here and the social life in London, however, I’m not sure how much longer I will stay here. If someone was moving over now I would tell them they would need to be on a good graduate salary.”

‘London has more to offer than Dublin’

Mark Byrne (29), a charity worker from Dublin moved to Croydon in March 2022, after stints working in Calais and the Balkans.

“I was living in Dublin till 2019, then I chose to leave to go volunteering as I was finding it too difficult to live there with the rental crisis,” he says. “I thought I would try to go travelling and find my feet somewhere else and then the pandemic hit. After Calais, my girlfriend and I both moved to London.”

Byrne now works for Refugee Support in London and questions his move but says the city brings a lot more opportunities for his line of work.

“I do question my move to London because I left Dublin as it was so expensive and I couldn’t find somewhere to live properly. Now I’ve ended up going to London which is equally expensive and it’s still hard to find places to live.

“I feel I’ve made a bit of a lateral move. In London, in this line of work that I do, there’s definitely a lot more available over here than in Ireland. With this sector of work, salaries are a bit lower so there is also the financial struggle that goes with getting to work in what you like but being in a very expensive city. London has more to offer than Dublin in terms of things to do, [but] I still prefer Dublin culture.”

Meanwhile, Clendinning is adamant that there is no place like London for new opportunities as a musician.

“I love London from a music perspective, there are so many people there trying to be the best they can be musically. It seems to attract a lot of passionate people.”

Since his move, he recorded at Eastcote Studios in Kensal Town with a producer who has worked with the Coronas and Razorlight.

“At Eastcote studios it’s wonderful to be immersed in that kind of environment, to be surrounded by people with the same dreams. Not only that but people who have lived their dreams. I’m still very much a dreamer.”