Crowd of people

The Guardian

Wednesday November 28 2007

Government figures predict UK population could be anything from 63 million to 108 million by 2081.

Britain’s population could almost double to 108 million within 75 years, according to government projections published yesterday.

The Office for National Statistics said that, based on high estimates of growth in immigration, fertility and longevity, the current population of 60.5 million could rise to 75 million by 2031 and 108.7 million by 2081.

But the projections drawn up by the Government Actuary’s Department to help Whitehall plan pension and welfare provision also show that in a scenario of low fertility, low life expectancy and low migration, the population would increase to 66 million by 2056 and then dip to 63 million by 2081.

The ONS says its “principal projection”, the one it thinks most likely, is that Britain’s population will reach 71 million within 25 years, 78 million within 50 years and 85 million by 2081. Statisticians have tentatively estimated that 69% of Britain’s future population growth is likely to come directly or indirectly from migration including a rising birth rate attributed to a growing number of young migrants.

The figures were published as migration experts said the next significant flow of workers could be Poles who have been working in the Irish construction sector making their way to the London Olympics site.

The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, told MPs the projections showed what might happen in 75 years’ time unless action is taken now. “Frankly, it underlines the need for the swift and sweeping changes we are bringing to the immigration system in the next 12 months, which will include the introduction of an Australian-style, points-based system, so only those that Britain needs can come to work and study.

“I think it shows we are right to set the points score for new migrants by considering not only the good of the economy but the realities of immigration’s wider impact.”

The migration advisory committee has been set up to advise ministers on how an inflow of people can fill skills shortages, while the migration impacts forum was established to monitor the wider social impact of migration.

The points system will not only restrict the inflow of migrants from outside the European Union but also lay down a new framework for those coming to Britain for family reunion purposes and as students.

The shadow home secretary, David Davies, said the projections confirmed Conservative claims that the population is likely to grow rapidly and said the government needed to wake up to the factors that were driving population change.

The ONS projections were published as parliament heard that the latest figures show there are 40,000 Bulgarians and Romanians living in Britain, far below the unofficial 58,000 estimate. The figures, drawn from the Labour Force Survey carried out in June, include about 35,000 who have registered to work under various Borders and Immigration Agency schemes.

Prof David Blanchflower, of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, told the House of Lords economic affairs committee that the next significant flow of migrants to Britain was likely to be of Poles and other east European migrants coming from Ireland to London’s Olympic sites. He suggested that the next wave of workers from east Europe was likely to be less skilled than those who have come so far: “The anecdotal evidence is the young man who came to Britain after EU accession went back home and then came back with his brother, and they then went back and brought back their father and mother.”

Prof Janet Dobson of University College London said weekend reports that schools had been asked to cope with more than 200,000 east European migrant children in the last three years were wide of the mark. Slough, which had one of the highest migrant populations, had 258 new pupils from Poland in the last 18 months. She told peers the total figure was more likely to be in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the impact of new migrants had been particularly acute in small rural schools which lacked the resources to cope with new arrivals.

The education experts who gave evidence agreed that lack of data from schools meant it was difficult to assess the impact of migration on education.


The official prediction that Britain’s population could almost double over the next 75 years certainly makes an eye-catching headline. But there is such a wide variation between the “high scenario” and the “low scenario” published by the Office of National Statistics that their figures range between 108 million by 2081 at the top and 64 million by the same date at the bottom. The biggest single factor in where the final figure will lie is thought to be migration and the “high” variant assumes that the population will increase by 250,000 a year due to migration.

That seems unlikely as it is 60,000 higher than the net figure of 190,000 a year who came after Poland joined the EU in the biggest ever migration to the UK. But if Turkey (71 million) and Ukraine (41 million) join the EU with unfettered access to the UK, that could change significantly.