Rising Birth Rate, Longevity And Migrants Push Population To More Than 60 Million

Ashley Seager, The Guardian, August 25, 2006

The British population is now more than 60 million and is growing at its fastest pace since the early 1960s despite residents leaving the UK at a record rate, the Office for National Statistics says.

Releasing its annual population estimates yesterday the ONS said the sharp increase in population was due mainly to net inward migration from abroad but also to a rising number of births and a lower number of deaths.

The figures showed that the population of Britain in June 2005 was 60.2 million, a rise of 0.6%, or 375,000 people, compared with a year earlier. The figure was the highest since the level of the early 1960s. Statisticians, who said they thought there had been a similar population growth rate in the year to June 2006, added that the pace of increase would slow over the next couple of years.

Of that 375,000 rise, 235,000, or two-thirds, was due to migrants. But the breakdown showed that the net migration of 74,300 from the new EU accession countries of eastern Europe, including Poland, was much lower than Home Office figures indicated earlier this week. The government figures said 427,000 people from the new EU countries had registered to work here over the past two years.

The ONS said its figures were for one year rather than two and, in line with United Nations recommendations, only counted migrants staying for more than a year. They therefore exclude seasonal fruit pickers. It added that the Home Office figures did not show how many eastern Europeans had gone home.

The ONS figures show that net migration into Britain is still, at 150,000, twice as high from Commonwealth countries as it is from eastern Europe. The office stressed that its figures were only estimates, since increasing globalisation meant large numbers of people were on the move in and out of the country for a lot of the time, so an accurate picture of the exact population was difficult to achieve. It has launched a programme to improve its estimates.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Britain is one of the most crowded of its 35 “rich” country members. The UK has 245 people per square kilometre, behind only Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands, with South Korea at the most crowded. Germany has a very similar population density, at 235 people per sq km. Meanwhile the organisation’s data also shows that Britain’s immigrant population share, at just below 10%, is close to the OECD average and well below countries like France, Germany and the US.

British people, however, seem to be abandoning their own country at a faster pace than eastern Europeans are arriving. Net outward migration of British people reached 114,000 in the year to June 2005, up from 108,000 the year before and the highest figure since records began in 1991. Many Britons move to Spain or France.

Migration is not the whole story behind the rise in population. The balance of births minus deaths led to 127,000 more people, up from 104,000 the year before—reflecting the number of births rising by 10,000 and the number of deaths falling by 12,000 due to greater longevity. The birthrate in the UK is 1.8 children per woman of child-bearing age.

The ONS also released figures on internal migration in Britain. London saw the biggest outflow, with 89,000 Londoners leaving the capital, although that was a smaller figure than in recent years and those people were more than replaced by people from abroad.

The south-west experienced the biggest net inflow, of 27,000 people, as it has done so for the past five years.

Madding crowds

Most densely populated countries

People per sq km (1999)

South Korea 477

Netherlands 466

Belgium 337

Japan 337

UK 245

Germany 235

Italy 193

Switzerland 183

Luxembourg 166

Czech Republic 131

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