Population Matters promotes a positive vision of a future in which our population co-exists in harmony with nature and prospers on a healthy planet, to the benefit of all. We believe that can only and must only be achieved through empowering people to make free choices that will improve their lives and protect the natural world.
Population Matters was founded more than 30 years ago, (we were known as the Optimum Population Trust until 2011). We gained charitable status in 2006. Initially purely volunteer-run, we took on our first professional manager in 2011. Over our history, our policies and positions have inevitably changed and evolved, and there are some things we’ve changed our minds about, some things that have been misunderstood, and some things we did wrong. Our current policies and positions are laid out on this website and no previous policies are endorsed unless they are featured here.
A small number of past policies and positions are most often raised when people express concerns about Population Matters. In some cases, those policies have also not been understood or accurately presented by others, but all the concerns and criticisms about them are important and legitimate. On this page, we’ll try to address those concerns by providing accurate information and clarifying what we think now, so that people can make informed judgments.
In 2013, our then-chief executive wrote a short blog on our own website advocating that the UK should not “significantly increase” the number of Syrian refugees it accepted, as some other organisations were calling for at the time (he did not advocate that the UK should take no Syrian refugees at all). He proposed that the UK should instead support the resettlement of refugees in countries near their country of origin.
However, this statement was not official Population Matters policy and was not approved by Population Matters’ board, who subsequently expressed their concern and disapproval to the chief executive and instructed that it and anything expressing similar views should be taken off the website. Population Matters’ 2015 policy document explicitly stated that UK government migration policy “must recognise the rights of asylum seekers and refugees”.
The chief executive left the organisation in 2016 and following his departure, his position on Syrian refugees has been wholly, repeatedly and publicly repudiated by Population Matters. We believe and entirely accept that it was wrong.
Since 2016, our policy has been unambiguous: “We call on all nations to fulfil their moral and legal obligations to accept and support refugees and asylum seekers.”
From 2009 to 2018, Population Matters ran a project called PopOffsets which raised and distributed tens of thousands of pounds to independent, local grassroots family planning projects. None of the projects were initiated by Population Matters. The premise of PopOffsets was that providing family planning and allowing people to prevent unwanted pregnancies would prevent future climate emissions and so was equivalent to offsetting through tree planting and other measures. As with other offsetting measures, people could make donations to the scheme based on a calculated carbon saving.
PopOffsets was not focussed on the Global South, as is sometimes claimed, and provided valuable funding to projects in the UK and US too. However, its emphasis on carbon offsetting was consistently misinterpreted and sometimes misrepresented, and we recognise that the principle of offsetting itself is a controversial one. We concluded we could meet the same goals of helping people and demonstrating the value and effectiveness of ethical, choice-based family planning and empowerment without the offsetting element. In 2018, we wound up PopOffsets and launched the similar Empower to Plan crowdfunding scheme, which provides funding direct to independent projects, but has no offsetting component.
We recognise PopOffsets as a misstep in communications terms, but are proud of the great work it did in supporting so many projects in their vital work meeting the demand for family planning in places where it was difficult to access. We are very proud that Empower to Plan is proving even more effective in meeting those goals.
During the tenure of the chief executive who made the Syrian refugees statement, Population Matters advocated restriction of child benefit and tax credits to the first two children. As put forward by PM in 2015, the policy would apply only to children born after it was introduced – so no one currently receiving benefits or credits would lose them, and specifically it was stated that it should only be adopted, “while ensuring that children are protected from poverty”.
Since that time, Population Matters has not campaigned for any changes to benefit or tax credits and does not support that proposal. Our position is clarified in a statement, released in 2018 in response to concerns about cuts in child tax credits having led to child poverty. It begins with the words, “No policy which tips children into poverty can be defended”.
Population Matters believes that it is entirely appropriate to consider whether universal state support for larger families is a public good, but opposes completely and categorically any measure that would lead to people falling into poverty or would discriminate against those on lower incomes.
In addition, we have seen as yet no convincing evidence that changes to tax and benefits would have any significant impact on family size or population, and we do not believe that savings to the public purse are justifications for withdrawing benefits.
Our position is that all countries, including the UK, should adopt integrated, evidence-based strategies to achieve sustainable populations through ethical, choice-based means. Positive incentives to choose smaller families through taxes or child benefit could form part of that strategy but any attempt to manipulate taxes or benefits without a strategic framework could be counter-productive, inequitable or harmful. No policy intended to address population should make people’s lives more difficult and Population Matters will not support or advocate for any policy which does so.
Zero net migration
The Optimum Population Trust advocated for zero net migration in the UK (ie for immigration levels to be no higher than emigration levels, leading to no population increase as a result of immigration). To the best of the current team and board’s knowledge, Population Matters has not campaigned in support of zero net migration since 2011. We now reject it as simplistic, unworkable and potentially harmful in its effects both in the UK and abroad.
Like the majority of people and all major UK political parties, Population Matters supports the principle of states having control over immigration, and believes that doing so almost certainly has a role to play in achieving sustainable population in the UK and other places. However, we do not currently work or campaign on national immigration policies in the UK or anywhere else. We can foresee no circumstances in which we would support a zero net migration policy again.
Our values and policies today
Population Matters’ values and beliefs are clearly outlined on our What we want page, and demonstrated and reinforced across this website, our social media and through everything we do. We are driven by compassion and a fundamental belief that population solutions can and must be positive, empowering and ethical. They should improve people’s lives and promote justice and equity in themselves, as well as helping to solve our population problems.
Overwhelmingly, over nearly 30 years, our policies have met that test. We regret the few occasions on which they have failed to do so and we are committed to promoting and embodying our compassionate, progressive values in everything we do, today and in the future.