Rising immigration, a higher birthrate among migrant families and longer lifespans are on course to lift the population by at least 15 million by 2051, from last year’s 60 million total. There are fears it could even hit 77 million.
The increase will be the equivalent of building two new cities the size of London. It will place enormous demands on housing, transport and public services, and will bring a dramatic change to the nation’s ethnic mix.
The projection, expected to be confirmed by government population experts this week, represents a big increase from the last prediction, in 2005, which showed the UK’s population rising to 69 million by 2051. The new figure will fuel the debate over Labour’s policy on immigration controls.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, has signalled a toughening of the regime by pointing to “the need for swift and sweeping changes to the immigration system”. Last night, the Tories renewed their call for a cap on the intake of migrant workers from outside the European Union.
Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “We can’t go on like this. Increasing the population gradually is one thing, but a headlong, unplanned rise is creating problems for public services and possible social tensions. This needs urgent action from the Government.”
Official forecasts of UK population growth are produced every two years by the Government Actuary’s Department. They are used in Whitehall to plan public spending.
The dramatic change to a two-year-old forecast will be a new blow to official statisticians, already under fire for their inability to count accurately the number of incoming migrants. Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, has complained that the poor quality of official statistics is hindering his efforts to steer the economy.
The extra anticipated growth is due to revised predictions for immigration rates, birthrates and longevity. The “underlying assumptions” on which the new projection will be based were published last month by the Office for National Statistics.
David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford University, said the new official projection was likely to show the UK’s population reaching 69 million in 2031 and 75 million in 2051. His calculation, disclosed in a memo to the House of Lords economic affairs committee, factors in only the revised migration and birthrate figures. The revised longevity could push the 2051 forecast as high as 77 million.
Prof Coleman told peers that the proportion of the population that is non-white was on course to grow from 9 per cent at the last census in 2001 to 29 per cent in 2051.
However, forecasting population growth is fraught with difficulty because it depends on the interaction of several unknowns over a period of decades. Even small changes in the birthrate or annual migration levels can have a big impact when forecasters look a long way ahead.
Last month, official statisticians raised their long-term estimate for annual net migration to the UK from 145,000 to 190,000. The move followed two years in which record numbers came seeking work here after the 2004 EU expansion.
A baby boom among immigrant women has forced the statisticians to raise their estimate for the birthrate of the entire population.
Women are now expected to have, on average, 1.84 babies each during their lives, compared with an expectation of only 1.74 two years ago. Foreign-born women living in the UK have, on average, 2.2 children. Pakistani-born women living here have an average of 4.7, whereas British-born women have only 1.6. Last year, 22 per cent of UK births were to foreign-born women.
The rapidly growing population will increase demand for housing, putting pressure on green-belt land and shoring up property prices for years to come. Gordon Brown has promised three million new homes by 2020, yet the new forecast suggests that the population by that year will be five million higher than today. A trend for more young people to live alone is also expanding the number of new households.
Rising population numbers will also require the building of new schools and hospitals. A bigger tax base will provide the necessary finances. The arrival of working-age migrants and the increase in the birthrate will postpone the “demographic time bomb”—when the number of pensioners becomes too large for the workforce to support.
Prof Coleman told peers: “The impact of an additional 15 million people would obviously be considerable: economic, environmental, social and ethnic. . . .
“The absent-minded commitment into which we have drifted, to house a further 15 million people, must be the biggest unintended consequence of government policy of almost any century. As it is by no means unavoidable, being almost entirely dependent upon continued immigration, it might be thought worthy of discussion. In official circles, there has been none.”
Shadow immigration minister Damian Green branded the number of foreigners moving to the UK unacceptable
One in three people living in London was born abroad and at least another 10,000 foreign-born citizens are settling in the capital each month.
Figures released show that out of a total Greater London population of 7.4 million, about five million were born in Britain.
The number of foreign-born Londoners increased from 2.3 million in June last year to almost 2.5 million 12 months later.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show the biggest foreign-born communities include Indians (almost 200,000), Bangladeshis (115,000), Irish (113,000) and Jamaicans (108,000).
There are now just over 100,000 Poles living in London and there are also large Nigerian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan populations.
Merrick Cockell, chairman of London Councils, said the true figures could be even higher and called for more funding to help pay for essential services.
“London boroughs are struggling to meet the increasing population’s demands for services such as social care and waste, while central government reaps all the economic benefits from international migration,” he said.
“The Government must distribute these benefits in a fairer way.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Jeremy Browne stressed cultural diversity brought huge benefits to the capital.
“London is a truly international city with a constantly evolving population,” he said.
“The success of our financial markets and business climate are attracting a wide range of entrepreneurs and workers.
“That is creating a social vibrancy but the Government needs to respond to legitimate concerns about pressure on public services in some areas.”
Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said the amount of foreigners moving to Britain was ‘completely unacceptable’ and called for an annual limit on the number of non-European Union migrants.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We know migration added about £6billion to our economy last year and London has shared in the benefits.”
He said the independent Migration Impacts Forum would advise the Government on how migration affects public services and communities, both impact and benefits.
A new points system, based on the Australia model, for immigration will be introduced next year.