Skip to navigation | Skip to content

Another ten million – UK set for even faster population growth

The UK is on course for a “massively unsustainable” rise in its population, with the publication of figures today (Thursday, Oct 20, 2005) showing that population growth rates are accelerating and predicting that the country’s population will grow by seven million over the next quarter-century and at least 10 million over the next six decades, according to the Optimum Population Trust.

Revised projections from the Government Actuary’s Department, published today by the Office of National Statistics, suggest that the UK’s population, currently 60.2 million, will grow to over 67 million by 2031 and to 70.7 million by 2074. A population rise of 10.5 million is equivalent to roughly one-and-a-half more Londons or 57 more Lutons (population 184,000).

New figures were also published today suggesting that the impact of rapid population growth on quality of life in the UK may be leading many Britons to “vote with their feet” and leave the country. Migration estimates from the ONS have revealed record figures for the net outflow of British citizens. The number of British citizens leaving the UK to live elsewhere increased to 208,000 in 2004 – the highest annual outflow on record.

Valerie Stevens, co-chair of the OPT, which campaigns for a sustainable population for the UK, said: “The figures show the situation is getting much worse much faster. We are faced with a population explosion in this country yet ministers present their plans for mass housing to accommodate it as if the new homes and their occupants existed in a vacuum. The prospect of 57 more towns the size of Luton, with all that means for our countryside and for issues like water consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, is truly terrifying. Quality of life in the UK is already visibly suffering. It’s hardly any wonder more people are getting out of the country.

“The Government has got to take a stand on this issue. It needs to start thinking about policies that link population with environmental carrying capacity. Allowing our population to grow to the levels now being suggested would be massively unsustainable. It would seriously degrade the environment and create intolerable pressure on natural resources.” GAD’s new projections reveal that the pace of population increase since the mid-1990s has resulted in the UK’s future population being seriously underestimated. In the space of just six years, estimates of the UK population in 2051 have risen from 64.1 million in 1999 to 66.8 million last year and now to 69.3 million. And while last year it was predicted that the UK population would peak at mid-century and then start to decline, now the forecast is for it to continue rising until 2074, the end of the projection period.

The increase in the population forecasts from GAD has come about because natural increase – the excess of births over deaths – and immigration are both rising faster than Government demographers had predicted In 1999, for example, GAD projected a natural increase of 86,000 more births than deaths and net legal inward migration of 95,000 for the year 2003-2004 – giving population growth of 181,000. Figures published in August 2005 showed that the population actually grew by 281,200 in 2003-04 – 100,000 more than predicted in 1999 – thanks to natural increase of 104,000 and net legal immigration of 177,200

Forty-three per cent of the 7.2 million increase between 2004 and 2031 is attributed by GAD to natural increase while 57 per cent is the result of net immigration. However, because of the impact of a generally younger immigrant population on birth and death rates, Government demographers have calculated that immigration actually accounts for over four-fifths of the forecast growth in population.

In 1999 GAD assumed net legal immigration would be running at 95,000 a year. The new projections assume it will be 255,000 in 2004-2005, 195,000 in 2005-2006 and 170,000 in 2006-2007 and that it will then run at 145,000 a year for the rest of the projection period.

Valerie Stevens added: “The UK seems to be breaking all the wrong sorts of records. In the space of just a year, since the 2004 projection, we seem to have ‘gained’ another two and a half million people and since 1999 we have ‘gained’ over five million. This year England broke through the 50 million level while the UK as a whole hit 60 million. Now we are talking about another ten and a half million people – an increase of nearly a fifth – within the lifetime of our children.

“A Government genuinely concerned about the environment – which this one claims to be – should be taking a view about what sort of population levels Britain can realistically sustain. If countries like Thailand or Iran or even China – all less densely populated than the UK – can act to get their population levels under control, why can’t we? A country the size of the UK simply cannot accommodate the sort of increases in prospect without huge impacts on quality of life.”

NOTES: The population of Luton is 184,000. (2001 Census figures plus later estimates). Unless otherwise stated, population projections referred to are GAD’s principal projections, not variant projections. Fertility, mortality and migration assumptions for the 1999-based and 2004-based population projections can be found on the Government Actuary’s Department website.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Telephone 07976-370 221 or see Valerie Stevens can be contacted on 01509 843109. Other contacts: Prof John Guillebaud (OPT co-chair) 01865 863 982 or 07779 180188 (mobile); David Nicholson-Lord (OPT Research Associate) 020 8693 5789 ; Rosamund McDougall (OPT advisory council) 020 7229 4950 or 07799 384083 (mobile).

NOTES FOR EDITORS : The OPT, a think-tank and campaign group, was founded in 1991 by the late David Willey. Its main aims are to promote and co-ordinate research into criteria that will allow the sustainable or optimum population of a region to be determined; and to campaign for a lower population in the UK – with a long-term target of between 20 and 29 million. Its patrons include Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies, Stanford University; Susan Hampshire, actress; Aubrey Manning, broadcaster and professor of natural history, University of Edinburgh; Professor Norman Myers, visiting fellow, Green College, Oxford; Jack Parsons, former deputy director, Sir David Owen Population Centre; Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission; and Sir Crispin Tickell, director of the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding.