As an island nation with limited land area and natural resources, the United Kingdom is under tremendous population pressure.
The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and with no end to population growth in sight, pressure on wildlife, housing, public services and resources will continue to grow.
The UK population is growing
The population size of the United Kingdom is now more than 66 million people, which is the biggest it has ever been. In 1950, the population was 50 million: it is projected to pass 70 million in 2031. Despite its relatively small land area, the UK is on track to be the largest nation in Europe by the second half of this century.
Drivers of growth
According to the ONS, since 1955 (except in 1976) the number of births in the UK has been higher than the number of deaths. The average number of children per woman (total fertility rate) has been declining since 2012 and now stands at 1.74. Net migration has been the main driver of population change since the 1990s.
The UK has the highest teenage birth rate in Western Europe.
Our consumption is unsustainable
The average UK resident produces 11 times more CO2 consumption emissions per year than a person in Nigeria and according to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone on Earth lived like the average Briton, we would need three planets to meet humanity’s natural resource demand without destroying nature.
More than two-thirds of the land needed to produce the UK’s food and animal feed is abroad: 64% of the related greenhouse gases are emitted on foreign soil.
The south-east of England ranks 161st out of 180 areas globally in terms of its ability to deliver sufficient water to its population.
Our environment and quality of life are paying the price
The UK is considered one of the most “nature-depleted” countries in the world, with more than one in seven species at risk of extinction and more than half in decline. The first Red List of UK mammals shows that a quarter of native mammal species now face “imminent” extinction due to relentless pressure from habitat destruction.
The government estimates the UK needs 200,000 new houses a year to meet growing demand. Some experts say 300,000.
An extra 750,000 school places will be needed in England by 2025 because of growing population.
Health care funding has not kept up with population growth and mortality rates from preventable and treatable causes are higher in the UK than in other European high-income countries.
Population density in Europe is just 34 people/sq km. At 426 people/sq km, England is the most overcrowded large nation in Europe.
The critical present and future impact of population growth requires a coordinated and integrated policy approach by government. The UK should adopt a Sustainable Population Policy to:
- 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, which recognises the importance of also addressing unsustainable consumption, and takes into account effects on other countries caused by any changes in migration policy
- Ensure the UK takes positive, effective action through aid and intergovernmental activity to support stabilising the global population
Support our campaign
The present and future impact of population growth on the UK affects almost every aspect of national life and the work of government. It therefore requires a coordinated and integrated policy approach. The UK Government and devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales must introduce, through legislation, a UK-wide Sustainable Population Policy that is compassionate and meets legal and moral responsibilities for asylum seekers and refugees.
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