Expats are usually drawn to life in London when they move to the UK, but new research shows that while quality of life in the capital city has improved, it is Cardiff that comes out top.

Residents of Cardiff have the highest quality of living in the UK, followed by Belfast, Bradford and then London, according to the MoneySuperMarket Quality of Living index.

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Overall, the quality of life has improved in UK cities, but there are disparities. Birmingham is named as the hardest place to make a living, Bristol has seen costs rise and the jobs market in Glasgow outperforms other cities.

Cardiff has the lowest cost of living out of all 12 cities at £359 per week, one of the lowest unemployment rates at 8.1% and the second highest disposable income growth of 3.7%.

In contrast, the cost of living in Bristol has risen to £430 per week, compared with the 12-city average of £391, second only to London. In addition, Bristol has seen a fall in disposable income growth, at just 2.8% compared to 3.3% in 2013.

Belfast is second in the index after being eighth in 2013, while Bradford, which in 2013 was last, is now sitting in third place.

Disposable household income growth in Belfast was the highest of all the cities at 3.8% against an average of 3%. Average rental prices in the Northern Irish capital were also far lower than average, while the unemployment rate of 6.8% is the second lowest of all the cities.

Similarly, Bradford’s disposable household income growth is 3.6%, making it the third highest out of all 12 cities, while average rent payments are the lowest at £490 per calendar month.

Birmingham takes the bottom spot this year and performs below average for five out of seven indicators. Unemployment in Birmingham is the highest at 13.1%, while the score for life satisfaction is second lowest at 7.22.

‘On a national level, the economy is performing well. Big contributors to that are growth in salary, disposable income and house prices, while unemployment has fallen. However, the precise story differs city by city,’ said Dan Plant, consumer finance expert at MoneySupermarket.

‘While some, like Cardiff, Belfast and Bradford measure up well against many of the indicators, others aren’t feeling the benefit of the rising economic tide. For instance, Liverpool was the only city in which the unemployment rate increased, in Sheffield average salaries actually fell, and in Birmingham the cost of renting increased by a huge 26% compared to a 12% average across these big cities,’ he explained.

‘Clearly, residents of Cardiff are benefiting from lower unemployment levels, and a rise in disposable income growth over the last twelve months. However, as we have seen with Bristol, this position can change as a strong local economy can often lead to increases in house prices and rental costs, resulting in a fall in disposable income growth,’ he added.

In the week before the referendum on Scottish independence, the Quality of Living index reveals that Glasgow and Edinburgh already have different economic pictures to the rest of the UK. Both have experienced larger than average increases in rental prices at 20% and 23% respectively, and slower house price growth, both 5%, compared with a 9% average in the other cities.

However, Glasgow and Edinburgh both outstrip the big city average in terms of growth in life satisfaction compared to last year.

Overall, London jumped in ranking from seventh place to fourth, but its trends differed from the rest of the cities wildly in a couple of key aspects. Londoners have the highest average salaries at £30,479, but the average salary growth was only £8 year on year compared to over £820 on average.

In addition, London’s property market growth at 26% was by far the biggest compared to the average of 9%, helping contribute to its rise in the tables. As expected, average rent prices are the highest out of the 12 cities on average £2,785 per month, and the cost of living there is also the most expensive at £486 per week.