UK population could soar to 90m
By Ben Leapman,
Home Affairs Correspondent
Last Updated: 1:48am GMT 25/11/2007
The population of the United Kingdom could soar to 90 million by the middle of the century, government statisticians will say this week.
Such an increase, driven by immigration and a rising birthrate, would add 50 per cent to today's population.
It would be the equivalent of building a new city the size of Sheffield every year and would put extreme pressure on housing, transport and public services.
The Tories will seize on the forecast, due to be unveiled on Tuesday, to press their case for a cap on immigration from outside the European Union.
Ministers will say the projection underlines the need for curbs that are already planned, including a new points-based system for screening migrant workers.
Earlier this month, the Government Actuary's Department (GAD) published data – first revealed in The Sunday Telegraph – showing how the population is likely to grow over coming decades. Its central forecast, known as the “principal projection”, was that the number of residents would rise to 71.1 million by 2031 and 78.6 million by 2056.
This week, the GAD will release “variant projections”, including high and low figures, showing the range of possible outcomes if three key factors – net migration, birthrate and average lifespan – turn out higher or lower than anticipated.
Statisticians, using calculations based on data already disclosed by the GAD, have been able to determine in advance the figures likely to be released on Tuesday.
In 2031, the GAD is expected to say, the UK population will be between 66 and 75 million. In 2056, it will be between 66 and 90 million.
Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, said: “All projections are uncertain, but the higher levels of these projections are truly alarming.
“It is clear that we would find it hugely difficult to cope with population growth at this rate. This shows why action to slow the growth of population is urgently required.”
The GAD's forecasts are used in Whitehall to plan public spending, but its previous projections have proved far too low. Its previous estimates two years ago suggested the population in 2056 would be only 69.6 million, with a “high projection” of 82.6 million.
The rising of forecasts reflects the surge in immigration in the past two years, in particular from Poland and other new EU states in eastern Europe. Official statisticians now expect net immigration to run at 190,000 a year for years to come.
A baby boom among immigrant women has forced the GAD to raise its birthrate estimates. Women are now expected to have, on average, 1.84 babies each over a lifetime. The average for British-born women is 1.6 and for foreign-born women 2.2.
The highest birthrate in the UK is among Pakistani-born women, who have an average of 4.7 children each. Last year, 22 per cent of births in the UK were to foreign-born women.
The Office for National Statistics, which releases the information on behalf of the GAD, confirmed that the calculation system would be the same as that used for the last set of forecasts two years ago.
The wide gap between high and low projections illustrates the difficulty statisticians face in making accurate predictions on population growth.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are committed to controlling migration in Britain's national interest. Our new points-based system will ensure that only those that Britain needs can come here to work and study. We have more staff working at our borders than ever before, and through the biometrics programme we are securing the UK's borders even further.”
Migration pinch at British schools
Britain's schools are being pushed to breaking point by the rising tide of immigrant pupils, according to the National Association of Headteachers.
It said that many schools could not cope with the influx, which threatens to change the culture of some schools.
Since the EU expanded in 2004, about 170,000 children from Poland, 30,400 from Lithuania, 28,700 from Slovakia and 12,900 from the Czech Republic have joined classes in British schools.
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21 October 2007: UK 'will swell to 75m' as migrants raise births
National Statistics Online: UK population estimates – Office for National Statistics