Population Matters

UK’s new Environmental Plan misses the mark

UK’s new Environmental Plan misses the mark

On Thursday 11 January, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a new 25-year Environmental Plan. Despite some recognition of the role of population growth in damaging the environment, no measures to tackle it are included.  

UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May

Too vague, too slow

The new Environmental Plan aims to tackle critical issues such as air pollution, soil degradation, waste, loss of biodiversity, plastic pollution and climate change. It establishes a number of principles and mechanisms to make progress in these areas. One of its most eye-catching goals is “achieving zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042.”

The plan also outlines goals for the UK to play a significant role in addressing global environmental problems.

Concerns have already been expressed, however, that the legal enforcement and funding required to achieve the plan’s goals are lacking. Among others, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Labour Party have all called for a clearer timetable and more urgent action.

“There is scepticism about how far the environment department Defra will be able to carry out its plans,” explains BBC’s environmental analyst Roger Harrabin, “there are huge pressures on the natural world from urgently needed house-building; HS2 threatens scores of ancient woodlands; and the Department for Transport has a major road-building programme.”

The impact of a population growth

The plan recognises population growth as a factor in environmental problems, stating:

“The scale of human impact on the planet has never been greater than it is now. At a global level, the 20th century brought many technological benefits and changes to our way of life, but we have also experienced unprecedented expansion in population, consumption, energy use, waste and pollution, and the conversion of land to agriculture.”

In a foreword to the document, the Secretary of State for the Environment also writes:

“We need to replenish depleted soil, plant trees, support wetlands and peatlands, rid seas and rivers of rubbish, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse the air of pollutants, develop cleaner,
sustainable energy and protect threatened species and habitats.”

In almost every case, population growth makes achieving these goals immeasurably more difficult, if not impossible. No plan to address population growth is offered in the document.

Population projections in the UK

United KingdomThe Office for National Statistics (ONS) anticipate a population of nearly 73m by 2041, a year before the plan’s end date. The rarely reported long term projection anticipates a population of 85 million in 2116 – 30 per cent more than the UK’s population today. It also expects the population to still be growing in a century’s time.

In a statement to the media when the projections were released, Population Matters director Robin Maynard said:

“(These) figures show that our environment, our infrastructure and our public services will face mounting and unbearable pressure for at least another century.”

Take Action

Recognising the impact of population growth as the report does is a step forward, but its failure to address population represents a major obstacle in achieving its goals.

Population Matters has proposed a Sustainable Population Policy for the UK, which provides a strategic framework for implementing measures to bring population to sustainable levels. Adopting such an approach is an essential measure for achieving environmental sustainability in the UK and must be an integral part of any environmental plan. Learn more about the policy here.

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2017: progress, challenges and Big Foot

2017 saw, of course, a further expansion of the population of human beings on our planet – since 2015, from 7.2bn to 7.56bn. That disappointing but entirely expected news was counterbalanced by signs of progress in the campaign to highlight and generate action on the population threat. Population Matters contributed to drive that debate and we are optimistic that understanding will grow in 2018.

Our campaigns

Global gag rule

The year started with disturbing news – the re-imposition and expansion by President Trump of the ‘global gag rule’. Withdrawing US aid funds from organisations offering abortion or information about it is deeply damaging to vital family planning and other health services in the world’s poorest countries – frequently those with very high population growth. While the impact will really take place when he next funding cycle begins, organisations are already reporting a direct impact on their services, and the well-being of the people they serve.

Population Matters has supported the campaign to address the impact of the cuts. Some hope was provided by the London Family Planning summit in July when other governments and big donors pledged more money, including in support of the SheDecides initiative.

Sustainable Population Policy

In June, to coincide with the snap UK election, in June we launched our Sustainable Population Policy, a framework for bringing UK population to sustainable levels. Neither the current or any recent UK governments have had any population or demography policy, despite our continued and high levels of population growth. Population Matters’ policy sets out principles that must be considered in creating a population strategy, including setting realistic targets, taking account of the international impacts of domestic policy decisions and respecting the rights of all UK citizens and residents.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Big Foot at the Natural History Museum
In July, the Natural History Museum in London received a visit from Big Foot, our new campaign mascot – a life-sized human sculpture made of a mesh of steel babies and standing upon a squashed planet Earth. Big Foot is our symbol for the Anthropocene, the period in the lifespan of our planet in which human beings have become the major force shaping the Earth.  From altering our climate to leaving radioactive traces in our rocks and bringing about the Sixth Mass Extinction, human beings – as a result of our massive population growth – are now the main drivers of what used to be called “natural history”.

Our campaign has called upon organisations which educate the public about the natural world to ensure that people know about the Anthropocene and the impact of our activities. We delivered an 1,800 signature petition to Sir Michael Dixon, director of the NHM, calling on him to ensure that the museum does its part. He has replied that:

Understanding man’s relationship with and impact on the natural world is central to our public programme and our scientific research. Of course, we do seek expert input to our work and, where appropriate, Population Matters is certainly an organisation we would wish to consult and potentially work with.

@roxeneandersonphotography

We have contacted other organisations, such as Kew Gardens, London Zoo and the Eden Project. The director of Kew Gardens wrote

I agree entirely that this is an extremely important issue and that building public understanding of the issue and mitigating actions is critical.

The campaign has contributed to a debate in the media, including an article in The Times and a number of local media articles accompanying Big Foot’s travels around the country. Wherever we take him, he stimulates interest and discussion – with most people quickly recognising what he represents.

Smaller families

The year also saw the launch of our popular Small families, small planet video, in which young people respond spontaneously to learning about the impact of population on the planet. The video has now been seen more than 10,000 times.

Waking up to poulation impacts

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

The year has seen increasing recognition of the effects of population growth in the media. A hard-hitting opinion piece by our patron Chris Packham in January was followed by a number of articles in key publications, including a prominently featured letter in The Guardian by PM director Robin Maynard and PM patron Jonathon Porritt.

Population and family size also featured in reporting of a number of science stories in the year. This year, a study was published identifying that having one fewer child was the most effective step an individual in the developed world can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In November,a stark warning was issued by 15,000 scientists about the gravity of the environmental threats we are facing. They were unambiguous about the role of population growth in the crisis, stating:

“[b]y failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”

They went on:

“It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most)…”

Progress on population

While the UN projections issued this year foresee our population reaching 11bn by the end of the century, they also show that if, on average, there was just half-a-child less in each family than it anticipates, our population in 2100 could be lower than it is today.

For that to happen, a concerted effort must be made to bring modern contraception to the 200 million women in need of it, to educate and empower women and girls so that they are free and able to plan their family size and to challenge opposition to contraception and social conventions that favour large families.

Allied with action to address our unsustainable consumption, these measures provide real hope for the (smaller) generations to come.

Support Population Matters

Population Matters is one of a handful of organisations across the world focussing on the environmental threats caused by unsustainable population. Please join us and support our work and campaigns in 2018. Thank you.

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Progress in family planning – but a long road ahead

Last week, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) released its annual report. The project designed to enable 120 more million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries to use modern contraception by 2020. The report notes a 30 per cent increase in users, which is just over half the number the FP2020 had hoped to reach at this stage. 

Increased use of modern contraceptives

Family planning in action

The FP2020 initiative was launched following a major family planning summit in 2012. It reports that as of July 2017

  • 309.3 million girls and women in the 69 focus-countries use modern contraception, an additional 38.8 million girls and women using modern contraception since the project started in 2012
  • Almost half of all new modern contraceptive users are in Africa, with 16 million additional women using modern contraception in the FP2020 countries of Africa compared to 2012. The fastest growing regions are Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • More than half the new users are in Asia, representing a total of 21.9 million women and girls. The region includes four of the five of the most populous focus-countries, namely India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

As a result of modern contraceptive use, between July 2016 and July 2017:

  • 84 million unwanted pregnancies were prevented
  • 26 million unsafe abortions were averted
  • 125,000 maternal deaths were averted

Cuts challenge access to family planning

Melinda Gates speaking at the 2012 summit. The Gates Foundation is a major donor to family planning worldwide.

Despite governments donating US$1.1 billion in funding for family planning in 2016,US cuts in international aid money for family planning have begun to affect provision.

The report notes an increase in global initiatives and funds providers by some donors, and a “growing understanding that rights-based family planning is essential to global development”, a position long held by Population Matters.

Nevertheless, the partnership’s executive director Beth Schlachter told a press briefing last week that “if the current rate of progress continues, FP2020 will not reach its 2020 target of 120 million new users.”

Take Action

Shortly after taking office, President Trump reinstated the ‘global gag rule’, which cuts off US overseas aid to any organisations providing abortion or information about it.

Population Matters joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the gag rule and supports the She Decides initiative, intended to generate alternative funding.

Please join the campaign to defend family planning.

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Not forgetting the men…

With a rightful focus on women’s unmet need for contraception and the roles of female education and women’s empowerment in family planning, the importance of male contraception can sometimes be neglected. World Vasectomy Day in November was one of a range of global initiatives designed to improve services for and engagement by men in empowering people to control their family sizes. Increased investment in men’s education and new contraceptive methods for men is expected to yield significant gains in coming years.

The problem

Traditionally, male contraception has been overlooked because of misconceptions around possible side effects, such as decreased pleasure or long-term infertility and the belief that there is no market for it. There is also the widespread belief that masculinity is about having many children.

Such disparity was highlighted in a UN study that shows that 60 per cent of women in partnerships used modern contraception, against only 8 per cent of men.

One gender equality NGO has reported “If we look at the global data on contraceptive use over the last 20 years, men’s rates of use have barely shifted … [and] in some areas we’ve actually seen reduction … particularly in vasectomy.”

Solutions

World Vasectomy Day in 2017 was 17 November

World Vasectomy Day is one of many global initiatives designed to challenge these norms and encourage men to participate in family planning. The event was held on 17 November and has been running for five years. This year was the biggest event to date, with over 12,000 doctors offering free vasectomies to men who have chosen not to have more children in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Also investments in innovations in male contraception, such as vasectomies, male contraceptive pill, and hormonal gels, implants and injections will help address this imbalance.

Changing attitudes among men

Ones scientist active in the field has noted that technological advances are not enough. Regine Sitruk-Ware told a development website that:

“We need to shift the paradigm around this and build stronger commitment globally and nationally around men and [their role in] family planning,” he said. This needs to include a “focus on working with men and women around male gender norms and the benefits of using family planning for both men and their partners, and the broader benefits to gender equality as well as to communication and decision-making.”

Together, such initiatives will help decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, as well as reduce the number of child and maternal deaths. It is also likely to help promote gender equality – another key factor in helping support better access to family planning.

These developments are important and welcome. Family Planning globally is now severely under threat, following US cuts earlier this year, that have left over 214 million women, and families, worldwide wanting and needing contraception but unable to access it.

Take action

Developments aimed at engaging men are key to the global campaign on population growth. Support our campaigns. please help us generate more understanding of the role men can play by following us and sharing these stories on social media.

 

 

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Hatches and dispatches: fewer births and deaths in 2016

BabyThe latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a slight decline in number of births in the UK in 2016 and a small fall in the number of deaths. The population of the UK continues to climb, however, as a result of net migration. Meanwhile, a report in the US ascribes a declining fertility rate to a smaller number of births among younger women.

Births in the UK

In 2016, there were 774,835 live births in the UK, a decrease of 0.3% from 777,165 in 2015. There were 597,206 deaths, a fall of just under 1%. The UK’s total fertility rate (or TFR, meaning the number of children a fertile woman would be expected to have in her lifetime) is currently 1.81, below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. The global average TFR is a little under 2.5. The UK has a higher fertility rate than most EU countries, however, and it has not changed significantly in the last 25 years.

Population growth

The UK population continues to grow despite a below-replacement fertility rate because numbers of births currently exceed numbers of deaths by a small amount and because of net migration. Immigration has grown the UK population by approximately 250,000 people per year on average since 2004.

In its latest projections released in October 2017, the ONS anticipates a UK population of 73m by 2041, and 85m by 2116. Over the next 10 years, it expects 54 per cent of population growth in the UK to be caused by net migration and 46 per cent to be the result of “natural increase”, ie a greater number of births than deaths.

Births in the US – the “baby bust”

US fertility rates graph
Credit: Negative Population Growth

A report by Negative Population Growth details how number of births in the US has fallen in recent years, with “millennials” (people born in the 1980s and early-mid 1990s) having far fewer children than preceding generations. The study shows that the number of babies born in the US dropped by 338,000 (approximately 9%) between 2007 and 2016. The US birth rate (number of babies born per 1,000 people in the population) has dropped from nearly 70 to 62.

One of the most striking features of the analysis conducted by Negative Population Growth is the decline in childbearing among millennials.  According to the report:

“Mothers ages 20-24 and 25-29 also saw significant declines [in number of babies born per 1,000], down 30% and 12%, respectively. Birth rates for all age groups of women under 30 fell to record lows in 2016.

Fertility rates for women in their 30s and 40s increased, but not enough to offset the lower rates of their millennial counterparts. As a result, the national fertility rate (all ages) fell 11% between 2007 and 2016.”

The US TFR is now also a little above 1.8. The US population continues to grow largely because of net migration.

Millennial moms

The report ascribes the lower birth rate among millennials to a number of factors, with relative economic disadvantage a key driver. With lower wages and higher accommodation costs in real terms, millennials are living with their parents longer, marrying less and delaying childbirth. Some do not want to add to the population for environmental reasons and others are fearful for the future of children born today.

The report cites a 2013 study which found that 58% of millennial female undergraduates do not plan to have children – up from 22% in 1992.

Find out more

Smaller families are better for all of us. Explore more about the reasons for having a smaller family and about life in smaller families.

Confused by the jargon? You can find a glossary of population terms here.

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“Time is running out”: 15,000 scientists demand action

15,000 scientists have signed onto a letter warning that the Earth faces environmental disaster unless action is taken to prevent it. Their warning was published 25 years after the Union of Concerned Scientists published a similar warning in 1992. The latest warning reports that in almost every respect, our environmental crisis has worsened since then, and that “time is running out”.

Population first problem

The scientists identify population growth as the “primary driver” of the key problems, noting:

“[b]y failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”

They note how the original warning in 1992 (when the Earth’s population was 2 billion less than it is today) “pleaded” for action on population growth.

They identify what they consider to be the major problems:

“Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production— particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption. Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.”

Scientists call for action

The scientists note good news in the fields of poverty reduction, reduction of fertility rates, controlling ozone-depleting substances, reduced deforestation in some areas and growth in the renewable energy sector. They are clear, however, that this is not enough.

“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.”

The warning is also clear about one key area:

“It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most)…”

Taking action

It is vital for people to understand the extent of the crisis facing the Earth, and the role population growth plays in it. Please share the graphics below on your social media, if you have it.

See here for more campaign actions.

Read more about the solutions to unsustainable population.

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Should greens back immigration controls?

Jonathon Porritt

Two senior green campaigners have today released a paper calling on UK environmentalists and people on the political left to recognise the need for action on immigration. PM patron Jonathon Porritt and Colin Hines argue in The progressive case for taking control of EU immigration – & avoiding Brexit in the process that progressive politicians should adopt a policy of “no new mass immigration” and end reflexive support for the principle of free movement of people.

They maintain that doing so will increase social justice, help address environmental problems, weaken the influence of right wing populism and be of benefit to many countries which currently lose people through emigration to the UK and other developed countries.

Immigration and globalisation

The paper outlines the extent of population growth and the role of net migration in driving it in the UK and describes how public concern about immigration has been consistently high and was a major contributing factor to the Brexit decision.

Porritt and Hines affirm their own belief in the value of immigration, the obligation to respect the rights of existing immigrants and their profound opposition to racism and xenophobia. They argue that progressive politicians have, however, long had a confused approach to immigration and that ignoring or rejecting public concerns on the issue is counterproductive and unjustifiable.

In the view of the authors, population pressure has contributed to inequality and declining quality of public services in the UK – although they maintain that the root cause of these problems is government policies starving services and infrastructure of resources.

They also maintain that freedom of movement tends to favour the wealthy and the neoliberal globalisation agenda, by depressing some wages and enhancing the power and freedom of corporations and employers, rather than workers.

Immigration and economic development

The paper addresses the challenging issue of how migration tends to push up environmental harms, as people move to places with greater economic development and higher environmental footprints. (That dynamic applies to British emigrants too – two of the top three UK emigration destinations, the US and Australia, have higher per capita CO2 emissions than the UK.)

The authors recognise that despite potential environmental harms, people living in developing countries have a fundamental right to economic development. It states:

“First and foremost, we have to redouble the commitments that we make to improve people’s economic and social prospects in [potential emigrants’] own countries. And the crucial thing is to tackle the root cause of why people feel they have no choice but to leave friends and communities in the first place.with genuine and effective action to improve people’s economic situation in their own countries.” 

The population taboo

In a concluding note on population, the paper says:

“In a world where overall population growth projections are rising, and where global migration is also on the increase, it is a complete dereliction of environmentalists’ duty to protect the planet to continue to ignore population growth and not to campaign for its reduction. Without this decrease, all solutions to other aspects of ecological and social concern are made far more difficult to deal with. This refusal to engage becomes harder and harder to explain.”

Population Matters’ support

In a statement of support for the paper, PM director Robin Maynard said:

An early draft of this report was titled, ‘Getting real about immigration’ – being directed at the Green Party and the green movement generally that would have been a good title; even better with one small change, ‘Getting real about population’.

As Colin Hines and Jonathon Porritt demonstrate, the green movement, which prides itself on being ‘progressive’, has been willfully blind to the issue of population, whether here in the UK or globally. It is particularly ironic, that by dismissing the concerns of a broad swathe of the British public about uncontrolled immigration and overall population growth, the greens find themselves in harness with neo-liberal free-marketeers and unscrupulous employers, who exploit fine principles about ‘free movement of people’ to force down wages and avoid investing in training. As NHS budgets are squeezed, desperate hospital trusts are forced to suck in already trained doctors and nurses from elsewhere – such as Romania, where the number of doctors has fallen by one-third over the past 5 years – making the UK the second largest importer (or should that be depleter?) of health workers in the world.

The latest projections, released last month, by the Office of National Statistics estimate that the UK population will grow to just under 70 million over the next 10 years and by another 16 million over the next 100 years. Globally, the world population is projected to reach over 11 billion people by 2100 – with much of that increase occurring in countries already suffering from the impacts of climate change, conflict and economic stresses. It is indeed time for the green movement to ‘get real’ about the issue of population. Not least, in supporting PM’s call for the UK Government to develop a Sustainable Population Policy.’

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Are we heading for 3 degrees hotter?

The United Nations has warned that unless a greater commitment is made to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris Agreement “target” of a rise in global temperature of no more than 2 degrees will be missed. It identifies a realistic scenario in which temperatures may rise by 3 degrees – a scenario that spells catastrophe for hundreds of millions of people.

“Urgent need”

The UN’s 2017 Emissions gap report examines the extent to which action to meet climate change targets measures up to what is actually needed to achieve them. It reports that there is “an urgent need for accelerated short-term action and enhanced longer-term national ambition if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to remain achievable.”

The report finds that action by individual countries to meet their own existing targets is not yet sufficiently effective but is also clear that those targets are themselves inadequate, saying “the gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high”.

Progress – but not enough

Carbon dioxide emissions have remained broadly the same since 2014, although atmospheric concentrations of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, continue to rise. Growing investment in alternative forms of energy has helped to reduce its price and the report’s authors believe “practical and cost effective measures” are available to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

Erik Solkheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program, said:

“We still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future. This is unacceptable. If we invest in the right technologies, ensuring that the private sector is involved, we can still meet the promise we made to our children to protect their future. But we have to get on the case now.”

The consequences of 3 degrees

Limits to Growth
Shanghai

Scientists have warned that a temperature rise of 3 degrees will lead to a devastating rise in sea levels.  According to an article in The Guardian, Climate Central estimates that 275 million people worldwide live in areas that will eventually be flooded if temperatures rise that high.

Among many other low-lying coastal cities, Miami, Shanghai, Osaka and Alexandria would be swamped. In the UK, large parts of eastern England and in particular Lincolnshire could be consumed by the sea.

Population and climate change

Adding more human beings to the global population increases emissions, exacerbates climate change and reduces the positive impact of ay other measures taken. A study this year by researchers from the University of Lund and British Columbia found that the single most effective step any individual in the developed world can take to reduce their carbon footprint is to have one fewer child.

An earlier study identified improving women’s education and family planning as among the most effective, achievable policies available to address global warming – because of their positive impact on reducing family size and population growth.

Policy gap

So far, however, discussion of such policies and the need to stabilise population at sustainable levels has not been on the policy agenda for mitigating climate change.

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A century of growth: latest UK population projections

UK population growth 1991-2041. Source: ONS

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today released its projections for population in the UK over the next 100 years. They show a slowdown in anticipated population growth in comparison to the previous projections (issued in 2015) – but nevertheless anticipate a population of nearly 73m by 2041. The rarely reported long term projection anticipates a population of 85 million in 2116 – 30 per cent more than the UK’s population today. It also expects the population to still be growing in a century’s time.

Revised projections

In today’s National population projections: 2016-based, the ONS ascribes the lower projections to a number of factors, including reduced net immigration, lower than anticipated fertility and more modest increases in longevity than previously anticipated. Over the next 10 years, it expects 54 per cent of population growth in the UK to be caused by net migration and 46 per cent to be the result of “natural increase”, ie a greater number of births than deaths.

ONS estimates that in the ten years up to 2026:

7.7 million people will be born

6.1 million people will die

5.2 million people will immigrate long-term to the UK

3.2 million people will emigrate long-term from the UK

Population growth in the next 25 years will be lower than in the last 25 years: 7.3m until 2041, compared to 8.2m between 1991 and 2016.

Long term uncertainty

In addition to its “principal” projection, ONS produces “variant” projections, reflecting the effects of changes in the various factors underlying population, such as fertility rates and proportion of younger people (ie of childbearing age) in the overall population. For 2041, the highest projection among these is 77m people, the lowest is 67.3m. ONS has yet to publish the variant projections for 100 years but in 2014, the highest figure was 114m and the lowest 61m.

No end to growth

A key finding of the report, consistent with projections over the last 10 years, is that it foresees no peak in population growth. Before 2003, official projections expected the population of the UK to stop growing but since 2004, projections up to one-hundred years in advance have shown no peak.

In addition, expected population at the end of the projection period has consistently increased. In 1981, projected peak was 4.1m above the then-population of 56 million (an increase of 7.3% over 60 years). In today’s projections (which are based on 2016 population figures), there is no peak projected and the projected popoulation in 2116 is, as noted above, 30 per cent more than current population.

Government response to population: “improvisations, bodges and knee-jerk reactions”

In a statement to the media, Population Matters director Robin Maynard said:

Robin Maynard and Big Foot
Credit: Roxene Anderson Photography

“The small reduction in expected population growth since the 2014-based projections is welcome but the population of the UK is unsustainable now: today’s figures show that our environment, our infrastructure and our public services will face mounting and unbearable pressure for at least another century. The absolute numbers are frightening enough but the underlying trend is even more alarming. The ONS expects our population to keep growing for at least a hundred years – in what is already one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. It’s worth repeating: if the ONS is right, a child born today will know nothing but an ever-increasingly crowded country until the day they die.

“When you look at the huge range of variant projections for population growth in both short and long terms, it’s clear that multiple factors contributing to population growth offer the government multiple levers to affect it. Despite this, in the face of an extra 20 million people or more by the next century, there is apparently no dedicated planning or policy response from central government. We must not accept that endless population growth is inevitable and that policy on demography should be an endless series of increasingly torturous improvisations, bodges and knee-jerk reactions. It is time to start talking openly and honestly about population. The stark message from these figures is that a proper, joined-up, strategic policy for sustainable population in the UK is needed now. In fact, it was needed a generation ago.”

Sustainable population policy

Population Matters has proposed a Sustainable Population Policy for the UK, which takes a strategic approach to bringing population to sustainable levels. Learn more about the policy here.

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NHS fails to adapt to population growth

The new Chief Inspector of Hospitals in England has concluded that the NHS has not adapted to cope with the growth in population and is therefore “not fit for the 21st Century”.

Lacking investment and failing to modernise

According to Professor Ted Baker, who began his appointed role last month, the UK’s National Health Service has failed to modernise because of historic lack of investment. In an interview with The Telegraph, Prof Baker stated: “The model of care we have got is still the model we had in the 1960s and 70s.”

As a former hospital medical director, Prof Baker also noted that: “The one thing I regret is that 15 or 20 years ago, when we could see the change in the population, the NHS did not change it’s model of care.”

His comments resonate with other recent reviews of service provision in the NHS. Just last month, a study by health charities the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust noted:

“Arguably, NHS hospitals have never been under greater strain than they are today. Population growth, combined with an increasing proportion of older people more likely to need health care, is driving greater demand for NHS hospital treatment – from A&E attendances and emergency admissions to referrals, outpatient services, diagnostic tests and elective admissions.”

Both Prof Baker and the NHS hospital bed numbers report identify multiple factors as contributing to the challenges faced by the NHS, including reduced funding relative to demand and other government policies.

Steady population increase

In the last three decades, the population has risen by nearly 16%, while the number of pensioners has risen by more than one third. Increasing numbers of people are living longer, adding to the pressures put on the NHS.

Source: Office for National Statistics


Prof Baker commented “Capacity is being squeezed all the time. That is a real concern going forward because there comes a point at which the capacity isn’t there”.

From challenge to opportunity

At Population Matters, we recognise the concerns over an ageing population, especially when it comes to services and healthcare. Yet we believe that any solution which involves boosting the numbers of young people simply postpones the problem and makes it even more difficult to address in the future.

It is important that we also recognise the opportunities of an ageing population and find new ways to ensure older people can continue to contribute and participate in economic and social life to the full extent they choose.

For more information about ageing populations, visit here.

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