The numbers behind the UK’s stalling population growth

Despite a surge of immigrants, official estimates show rate of growth is at its slowest increase since 2004

(Image credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

UK population growth has fallen to its lowest rate for 15 years, despite the total number of migrants entering the country rising by 10% on the previous year.

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal the population of the UK rose slightly to 66.4 million people last year, an increase of just 0.6% - the lowest since 2005.

The number of births was the fewest in over a decade, while the number of deaths was the highest since 2000. But “despite a widely held belief that the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016 would lead to a fall in immigration, the figures show international migration continues to increase”, says The Guardian.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The total number of people migrating to the country was 626,000, up 10% on the previous year, while the number of people emigrating was 351,000, a 3% increase.

The four local authorities with the fastest-growing populations were in central London: the City of London, Westminster, Camden and Tower Hamlets.

“Typically London attracts young people drawn to the capital by university and career opportunities but loses residents in older age groups, particularly families with young children,” says the London Evening Standard. However, the paper says the increase in the net outward migration from the capital “has been blamed on London’s housing crisis, with sky-high prices and rent forcing thousands a year to relocate to cheaper areas in the commuter belt or other towns and cities elsewhere in Britain”.

Robin Maynard, from charity Population Matters, which researches the environmental impact of population size, said the latest figures gave “no grounds for complacency” about UK population growth.

“Birth rates and migration fluctuate from year to year but our already unsustainable population is continuing to rise and that will continue until a positive strategy is put in place to address it,” he told the BBC.

This was the 36th consecutive year of population growth in the UK. Numbers began to climb in 1983 after years of decline, which followed a period of low fertility and emigration starting in 1963.

However, population increases over the past three decades have been far from uniform.

In the decade since 2008, the number of over-65s in the UK increased by around 23%, while over the same period the working age population has grown by just 3.5%, “with migration being a major factor in the latter”, says the Financial Times.

Laura Gardiner, research director at the Resolution Foundation think-tank, said: “The UK population is ageing particularly fast at the moment because rising life expectancy is being amplified by the large baby boomer generation moving from working age into retirement.”

The FT says the data “also showed that population change was unevenly distributed across regions”, with coastal and rural areas tending to have older populations while urban areas saw greater growth “as a result of both migration and natural growth rooted in younger populations”.

This increasingly unbalanced distribution of old and young could have “huge implications for public service provision across the UK, and how those services are funded”, says Gardiner.

Meanwhile Maynard claims that while “the government has announced ambitious plans to achieve a zero-carbon economy, by ignoring our unsustainable population growth, it is driving with the brakes on”.

“More people means more emitters and more emissions. Our growing numbers are incompatible with our climate change commitments, the health of our environment and our quality of life,” he adds.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us