Sarah Barrell: Capital punishment as London prices climb again

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Some friends moved from Mexico to London this week.

In the year since I last saw them there have been births, job losses and near divorces, and what did we talk about? How expensive London is.

These are people who, although they may have just extracted themselves from the jungle, are no rural recluses. They have done time in Berlin, New York and, a decade ago, in London. Although I wanted to tell them to get over it, I found myself counselling them. Just as I had been counselled by patient friends when I moved back to the UK after five years' absence, and spent most of my trips to the corner shop in a state of bug-eyed paralysis at the cost of a pint of milk.

And (of course) there is a poll to confirm the misery: Mercer's 2011 cost of living survey. This annual report looks at 214 metropolitan areas on five continents, measuring the comparative costs of food, clothing, housing, transport, household goods, and entertainment.

Mercer ranked London as the most expensive place to live in the UK, followed by Aberdeen, although the Scottish city is still fairly low down the global list: in 144th place as opposed to London, which is currently the 18th most expensive place in the world to live. According to another new survey (by the Office of National Statistics) Londoners pay 6.7 per cent more for goods and services than people living in other UK cities. So far so grim for my newly landed friends.

I'd suggest they move elsewhere in the UK, but most British cities have risen up Mercer's list. London has, in fact, slipped a place. Costs are still rocketing only less rapidly than in other UK cities.

But, to take some Schadenfreude from the world perspective, it's not as bad as it could be. As Brazil's economic growth continues to outshine that of Europe and the US, its cost of living has also risen. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are the biggest climbers on the Mercer list, with Rio jumping from 29th to 12th place. And you can bet that that GDP growth isn't filtering down to the residents of the favelas that line the city's hills.

In case you are considering a big move on a small budget: Luanda in Angola is the world's most expensive city to live in according to Mercer, followed by Tokyo and N'Djamena in Chad. North American cities have gone down the list, again, not because prices aren't rising but because they are rising faster in Europe and Asia.

If you still choose to visit the costly capital this summer, take a look at its buses. They are currently displaying a new ad campaign for Tunisia's National Tourist Office, designed to lure back the tourists scared off by the recent, violent revolution. Never an easy task for a destination, I grant you. But the poster of a woman getting a massage next to the tagline "they say that in Tunisia, some people receive heavy-handed treatment" is enough to stop traffic, certainly in London if not to Tunisia.

With a population of about 10 million, tourism provides a crucial 400,000 jobs in Tunisia, so one might argue that such a provocative campaign is justified. But many of these jobs, at dirt-cheap all-inclusive beach resorts, pay shockingly low wages. Like many of those protesters, some 200 of whom lost their lives, Tunisia's hotel workers struggle. I doubt a regime change will alter this imbalance.

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