ONS population projections: a century of population pressure to come

Population Matters media release

26 October 2017, immediate use

ONS population projections: a century of population pressure to come

Campaigning charity Population Matters reacted with concern at todays’ 2016-based National Population Projections.

Director Robin Maynard said:

The small reduction in expected population growth since the 2014-based projections is welcome but the population of the UK is unsustainable nowtoday’s figures show that our environment, our infrastructure and our public services will face mounting and unbearable pressure for at least another century. The absolute numbers are frightening enough but the underlying trend is even more alarming. The ONS expects our population to keep growing for at least a hundred years – in what is already one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. It’s worth repeating: if the ONS is right, a child born today will know nothing but an ever-increasingly crowded country until the day they die.

When you look at the huge range of variant projections for population growth in both short and long terms, it’s clear that multiple factors contributing to population growth offer the government multiple levers to affect it. Despite this, in the face of an extra 20 million people or more by the next century, there is apparently no dedicated planning or policy response from central government. We must not accept that endless population growth is inevitable and that policy on demography should be an endless series of increasingly torturous improvisations, bodges and knee jerk reactions. It is time to start talking openly and honestly about population. The stark message from these figures is that a proper, joined-up, strategic policy for sustainable population in the UK is needed now. In fact, it was needed a generation ago.”

Selected key findings

  • The “principal” projection for 100 years’ time is a UK population of 85.9m people, 30 per cent more than today (1).
  • The projections include a series of variants based on different assumptions about fertility, mortality, age structure and migration. The highest variant projected for 2041 is 77 million, the lowest is 67.3m (2).
  • Although the total expected population growth over 100 years is less in the 2016-based projections than in the 2014-based projections, no peak is forecast (3).

In response to existing unsustainable levels of population growth and the projected increases, Population Matters has proposed a framework for developing a Sustainable Population Policy (4), based on the following principles:

  • Accurately determine future population growth in the UK and what factors and policies will affect it
  • Assess the impact of population on other policy fields (such as  climate change targets and public services) and integrate population policy into those areas
  • Set targets for ending population growth and stabilising population at a sustainable level
  • Develop an integrated policy framework to meet these targets, including through reducing the birth rate and reducing net migration
  • Ensure the UK takes positive, effective action through aid and intergovernmental activity to support stabilising the global population
  • Make population policy the responsibility of a cabinet minister, scrutinised by a parliamentary select committee.

In addition to these basic requirements, the policy must take account of the impact of decisions made in the UK on other countries, respect the rights of all UK citizens and residents, and ensure it meets all of the UK’s obligations for refugees and asylum seekers.



For further information or comment, please contact:

Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns & Communications: 0208 123 9170 alistair.currie@populationmatters.org

Notes for editors

(1) The 100 year projection is contained in the detailed tables here https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationprojections/datasets/tablea11principalprojectionuksummary

(2) The 25 year variant projections are found at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationprojections/compendium/nationalpopulationprojections/2016basedprojections/variants#projected-population-by-age

(3) Historically, the period until peak population was expected to be reached has grown longer each time projections were made and there now is no projected peak. From 1981 to 2004, population was consistently projected to peak about 50 years after the date the projection was made. In 2004, that period increased abruptly to 70 years and since 2008 projected peak has been at least 100 years away (the maximum period of the projection).

Detailed information and analysis about the changes in population projections in recent years is available in a briefing by the Anthony Rae Foundation at https://www.populationmatters.org/documents/uk-long-term-population-projections-anthony-rae-foundation.pdf

(4) For further information on Population Matters’ Sustainable Population Policy, see here

Population Matters is a membership charity that addresses population size and environmental sustainability. We believe population growth contributes to environmental degradation, resource depletion and other problems. We conduct research, inform the public and advocate improved family planning and sex education, women’s empowerment, smaller families and moderating consumption.



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