Immigration and births to non-British mothers pushes British population to record high
Last updated at 09:09am on 22.08.08
The soaring birth rate among immigrant mothers will soon become the main driver of Britain's rapid population growth, Government experts have predicted.
Immigration has been the biggest factor in increasing the population in recent years, and with millions of new arrivals starting families the birth rate is soaring.
The Office for National Statistics said yesterday that it could be the main source of overall population growth as early as next year, overtaking immigration itself.
Almost a quarter of all babies in Britain are now born to immigrant mothers. In London the figure is 54 per cent, rising to 75 per cent in some boroughs.
Foreign-born mothers have an average of 2.54 children, compared with 1.79 for women born in the UK.
In most cases a baby born in the UK acquires automatic citizenship if one parent holds a UK passport, although rules are complex.
If parents have settled in Britain legally, children can secure British citizenship within a few years.
A record number of immigrants settled in the UK in the year to June 2007, topping 600,000 for the first time and helping push Britain's population to a new high of 60,975,000, a rise of almost two million in six years.
The immigration rate of 605,000 – double the figure when Labour came to power – means that on average 1,650 newcomers are settling here every day.
There are currently 6.3million people in the UK who were born abroad – well over 10 per cent of the population, and 1.1million more than in 2004. Polish workers account for almost a third of that increase.
Just over 400,000 UK residents left to live abroad last year, which still left a net inward migration of some 200,000 people.
ONS experts admitted they were 'surprised' by the continued growth after several years of sustained high immigration, when they had anticipated a tailing off two to three years after the EU's expansion began a huge influx from eastern Europe.
Announcing the figures today, Government statisticians singled out the number of babies born to immigrants as a significant trend.
It threatens to put even more pressure on public services, with schools and hospitals already struggling to cope.
A report published earlier this month revealed that one in eight pupils speaks English as a second language. MPs and unions have called for urgent action to prevent schools being overwhelmed by the pressure.
They warned that teachers are being forced to juggle resources as migrant children take longer to understand lessons and divert the teacher's energies from other pupils.
Maternity wards have been forced to turn away expectant mothers because they cannot cope with soaring demand from immigrants.
One hospital had to shut its maternity ward for two months because staff were needed elsewhere to deliver babies from foreign-born mothers.
An investigation by the BBC found the cost of providing maternity services for immigrants has more than doubled in only a decade to £350million a year.
Guy Goodwin of the ONS said: 'It is clear that yesterday's migrants as well as today's migrants are now contributing to the net population growth we are seeing.'
High immigration has increased the number of women of childbearing age in the UK, with those aged 15 to 44 up two per cent since 2001.
The number of babies born to UK-born mothers has risen by six per cent in six years, to reach 529,700.
By contrast the figure for immigrant mothers leapt by 64 per cent from 97,900 to 160,300 over the same period – accounting for two thirds of the overall increase in the nation's birth rate.
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'With births to foreign mothers becoming such a large driver of population growth, it is vital that immigration levels are set taking into account the ability of our schools, hospitals and other local services to cope.'
A Home Office spokesman said: 'Migrants contribute to the economy, putting more in than they take out.
'It is vital we take the social impact of migration into account when we make migration decisions.
“That's why we set up the Migration Impact Forum to provide independent advice to the Government.
'We will also ask migrants to pay a little extra towards a fund of tens of millions of pounds to help services to deal with the short-term pressures of migration.'
She said a new points-based system to select immigrant workers was part of 'the biggest shake-up to the immigration system for a generation'.