The past week has seen the completion of the House of Lord’s debate on the Government’s programme for the period leading up to the General Election in May 2015.
One overarching issue had little or no attention – an issue which will have a dramatic impact on every aspect of government policy – that is the future absolute levels of population in the UK, particularly in England.
As is always the case, one has to be clear about two things. This is not a debate about immigration or about the racial make-up of our country. The question is how future levels of population will affect every member of our settled population. Indeed, some strongly argue that it is the more recently arrived who will be the most affected. Of all the challenges that Governments face, demography has the longest lead times. A nudge on the demographic tiller has no immediate impact at all. It’s effects are felt in 10, 20 or even 50 years. That is why it is so important that all governments look to the future and decide what, if any, steps are necessary today.
The basic facts are these. The population of the United Kingdom increases every day on average by 1,250 people. That means that we are putting onto the map of Britain a large village or a small town every week for 52 weeks a year. Currently 60% of those people are what is called the natural increase – the excess of births over deaths – and 40% from immigration. Should we mind that increase? Well, it is certainly going to have an extraordinarily dramatic impact on our country. Take housing, currently 2.4 people live in every dwelling. It is our duty as a civilised society to house our fellow citizens properly. If we assume that the ratio persists – it has been falling gradually over the years – we need 480 houses every day. We need some immediately to deal with adult immigrants and some over a slightly longer period to look after children as they mature. We can all do the mathematics: 480 houses every day means 20 houses every hour, a house every three minutes, night and day.
So there is a need to step back and look at this issue in the round because the future challenge is no less dramatic. The Office of National Statistics mid projection, suggest that the population of England will grow by 13 million over the next 40 years. This will require 3.6 million homes probably half of which will need to be built in London and the South East of England.