Population | Key Topics


Recent Population Growth

1. The UK population is growing at the fastest rate for almost a century. Unlike previous episodes of growth, the major reason for this increase has been the high level of immigration. (Read More)

2. The population growth of a country is affected by the birth rate, death rate and net migration (the difference between immigration and emigration). Net migration adds to the population both directly from the migrant themselves and indirectly by increasing the number of births in the country. In 2016, well over a quarter (28.2%) of live births in England and Wales were to mothers born outside the UK, the highest level on record. This percentage has increased every year since 1990, when it was 11.6% (Read More)

3. In 2001 the population of the UK was estimated at 59.1 million, with 4.9 million (8.3%) foreign born. By 2011 the population of the UK had increased by 4.1 million to 63.2 million with the foreign born population at 8 million (12.6%). The population now stands at 65.6 million (mid-2017). (Read More)

4. It is estimated that net migration plus births to foreign-born parents has accounted for 85% of population growth between 2000 and 2014 (Read More)

England is already highly overcrowded

5. Over 90% of international migrants to the UK go to England which now has a population density of 425 people per square km . The population density of England is higher than in India, the world’s second most populous country and is nearly twice that of Germany and 3.5 times that of France.

6. The population of England grew by a faster rate than any other region of the UK between 2016 and 2017 and faster than the UK-wide rate of 0.8%.

Future population Growth

7. If net migration continues at recent levels the UK will become ever more crowded. Projections of future population growth have to make assumptions about net migration, birth rates and mortality but, in the UK, net migration at recent levels is the largest driver of population growth.

8. The Office for National Statistics produces projections on different assumptions about net migration. If net migration were reduced to zero (that is, the numbers of people entering and leaving the country were the same) the population would rise gradually to 67.3 million (from its current 65.6 million) in twenty-five years before gradually declining from the middle of the century.

9. In contrast, under the principal projection from the ONS with net migration at 165,000, the population is expected to increase by a total of 7.3 million over the next twenty-five years, passing the 70 million mark sometime in 2029. (Read More)

10. However, net migration is currently 250,000, far lower than the level assumed in the principal projection and has averaged a quarter of a million for the last ten years. If net migration were to continue at present levels, then the population would reach 73 million in the next 20 years. This is the ONS ‘high’ migration scenario of 245,000 per year. This increase of nearly 8 million people is the equivalent of adding the combined population of Greater Manchester and the cities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leicester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Bristol. 82% of this increase would be from future migration and the children of those migrants.

11. The population growth would not stop there. It would continue to increase towards 80 million by mid-century and keep going upwards. These projections are illustrated below.

Table 1. The impact of future net migration on the UK population. Source: ONS 2016-based population projections.

ProjectionNet Migration Assumption (thousand)UK Population in mid-2041 (million)Population Increase (million)% of increase due to future migration
Zero067.31.70%
Low8570.44.865%
Principal16572.97.377%
High24575.49.782%

Figure 1. ONS Population Projections at different levels of migration. Source: ONS 2016-based population projections.

12. The vast majority of population growth is projected to occur in England. Of the 7.3 million increase in the UK population projected by 2041 under the principal projection, 6.7 million, or 92% is due to take place in England which will present very significant problems for housing and public services.

Table 2. Increase in the population of the UK and England under Principal Projection. Source: ONS 2016-based population projections.

20212026203120362041
UK increase from 2016 (millions)2.5 3.6 5 6.2 7.3
England increase from 2016 (millions)1.7 3.2 4.5 5.6 6.7
England increase as % of UK increase68%88%90%90%92%

13. Some claim that as the birth rate has decreased and life expectancy increases, the UK needs immigration in order to sustain the ratio of working age people to old age pensioners.

14. While it is true that the total fertility rate (TFR) is below the level required to sustain the population in the long run (a TFR of 2.1 is required and the current TFR is 1.81, read more) and we are indeed living longer, it is highly dubious to claim that immigration is a long term and sustainable solution.

15. Migration can moderate population ageing at the national level but the effect is not strong and migration cannot solve population ageing since, obviously, migrants also grow old. They would need to be replaced by an ever-increasing flow of immigrants to have any continuing effect on the age structure of the UK. The result would be a substantial and continuing increase of the population, potentially without end.

16. A more sensible solution to address ageing and maintain the ratio of workers to non-workers is to increase the retirement age, reflecting the fact that not only are we living longer but we are also, thankfully, much healthier later into our lives than we ever have been.

Impacts

17. Such rapid population growth has severe impacts on the provision of public services such as school places. (Read More) Similar strains will be placed on infrastructure like the transport network. Roads will have to be widened and new ones built to deal with the extra traffic while overcrowding on the railways will increase. Adequate housing will have to be built to accommodate all the extra people, either by making our urban areas more overcrowded or by building on green field sites with the loss of valuable amenities like beautiful countryside and productive farmland. Already, in recent years most of the increase in households has been down to an increase in those with a foreign born head of households. (Read More)

Government Policy

18. No UK government has had a population policy but the present government does have a target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands. This would significantly slow the rate of population increase.

Updated October 2017



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