One contributor says it's time to wake up to demographic reality. The other warns against anti-migrant scaremongering—and questionable economic assumptions. Who is right?by Robin Hodgson and Norma Cohen / October 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
Certainly by the standards of western Europe. The citizens of Hong Kong and Bangladesh live far more densely, but I doubt whether the citizens of the UK would wish to live similarly. And we must anticipate, unless policy changes, that the UK’s population density will continue to increase. This natural growth—the excess of births over deaths—currently runs at 115,000 per annum. Those children will in due course need schools, homes, offices and hospitals.
In the late 1990s, when the Blair government decided to encourage large-scale immigration, the population of the UK was 58.3m—at last count it was 66.8m. The Office for National Statistics’ projection for 25 years from now is 73m plus. Over half a century our population will have increased by 25 per cent—a significant figure in a country with some very densely-populated regions. Around 2050, the UK will overtake Germany to have the largest population in Europe, and England will overtake the Netherlands to have the greatest population density.
But the UK is not simply at risk of becoming overpopulated—73 per cent of the country believes it to be already! The electorate can be denounced as wrong and ignored, which has serious ramifications for democracy, or it can be seriously engaged with. My view is we opt for the latter, which is why the government must urgently tackle this issue or risk widening the gap between people’s expectations of policy and its delivery, and fostering even more extreme politics.
Most of the arguments in favour of a growing population focus on economics. One can argue whether these are well founded. But vanishingly little weight is given to inevitable impacts on our environment, ecology and society. My own preferred solution is to establish an independent authority, the Office for Demographic Change (ODC), where rational, evidence-based discussions can take place, and from which carefully considered policy decisions can flow.
The question of what it means to be overpopulated was asked—and answered—by Thomas Malthus in 1798. Human population, he noted, grew at an exponential rate, while the quantity of food grew at a linear rate. An overpopulated world was one where the number of humans was growing faster than the rate at…