The main ‘immigration’ story reported in the media last week was the so called “immigrant baby boom”, which the Daily Mail says is “fuelling Britain’s fastest population growth in half a century”.
The number of people in the UK has officially passed 61million for the first time, figures showed last week.
According to the Mail, record immigration levels over the past decade have driven up the number of women of childbearing age, which helped boost the number of births last year to 791,000 – up 33,000 on 2007.
The excess of births over deaths played a bigger role than immigration itself in driving population growth, which is now twice as fast as in the 1990s.
The figures from the Office for National Statistics show that net immigration – the balance of those arriving over those leaving – fell by 44 per cent between 2007 and 2008 as economic turmoil triggered an exodus of foreign workers.
Immigration Minister Phil Woolas seized on those figures as proof that Britain’s borders were ‘stronger than ever’ and migration was ‘under control’.
He insisted that previous projections showing the UK population rising to 70million within 30 years were now ‘not true’.
Mr Woolas said: ”
Of course it’s the net migration increase that has been worrying people, including me.’
However, month Home Secretary Alan Johnson ruled out any cap on immigration and told MPs he did not ‘lie awake at night worrying about a population of 70million.’
Birth rates have been rising over the past decade, with the ONS measure of fertility now standing at 1.96 children per woman, up from 1.63 in 2001 and the highest in almost 40 years.
ONS statisticians said the rising birth rate was partly due to women born in the UK having more children.
While there was ‘no single explanation’ for this, possible causes included women in their 20s choosing to have babies slightly earlier and changes in government policies on maternity leave and tax credits.
However mass immigration has had a greater impact on birth rates, as hundreds of thousands of women of childbearing age have arrived in the UK.
They have boosted the number of potential mothers by two per cent since 2001.
Foreign-born women also have a higher birth rate – 2.51 children compared with 1.86 for UK-born women.
ONS statistician Roma Chappell said 56 per cent of the 33,000 increase in births between 2007 and 2008 was accounted for by the babies of mothers born outside the UK.
Some of these, however, will be of British descent.
Across Britain around one baby in four is now born to a mother from overseas.
In London, the figure rises to 55 per cent, with the highest proportions last year in the boroughs of Newham (75 per cent) and Brent (73 per cent).
Slight falls in the death rate over recent years mean that ‘natural’ population growth – the excess of births over deaths – reached 220,000 in 2007/08.
Net immigration added 186,000 – down from 198,000 the year before.
Earlier this week, separate health figures showed maternity services under severe pressure. Some 4,000 women were forced to give birth outside maternity wards last year due to a lack of midwives and beds.
While the births figure is rising, numbers at the other end of the age scale are also growing. There are now 1.3million people aged 85 or over – more than two per cent of the population.
The ONS immigration statistics for the year to December 2008 showed 512,000 arrivals, down only slightly on the 527,000 figure of the previous year.
But there was a sharp rise in the number of foreign workers leaving the UK.
A total of 395,000 people emigrated, up 24 per cent on the year before. They included 237,000 non-Britons, many of them Poles and other Eastern Europeans.
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of the MigrationWatch pressure group said last night:
“It is the usual Government spin to claim these numbers as a success for immigration policy when foreign immigration is virtually unchanged at about half a million a year.
“What has really happened is that EU citizens have voted with their feet. The number leaving has doubled in the face of the deep recession in Britain. But EU migration is something over which the Government have no control whatever.
“The bottom line is that the population of the UK will exceed 70million within 25 years even at these levels of immigration.”
Immigration Matters Comment
A few years ago the media was getting into a flap because the UK’s population was not growing fast enough.
Schools were closing because there were not enough pupils to fill the places. Villages and entire regions of the UK were dying through lack of people. Farmers complained that crops were rotting in the fields because they could not recruit workers.
Actuaries were warning the Government that the number of people of working age would in a few years not be sufficient to support those in retirement and in receipt of the state pension – for which there is no ‘fund’ with benefits coming straight from working taxpayers.
This so called ‘pensions time bomb’ issue has yet to be resolved in Britain and many western European countries.
Germany, France and Italy all have the problem of massive state benefits being paid out for longer than anyone ever expected from tax levied on fewer and fewer people of working age.
Not everyone agrees that economic immigration is necessarily bad for Britain.
In 2007 Keith Vaz, MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said:
“People want to come to the UK because it is the best country in the world to live and work in and that migrants are in fact helping to boost the economy rather than drain it of resources.
“The immigrant community has contributed £6bn to the British economy – that is why our economy is so strong,” he says.
Martin Weale, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, added that the UK makes huge savings when migrants of working age come to Britain, because taxpayers have not had to pay for their education.
But in terms of whether Britain could cope economically with a much bigger population, he believes it could.
“The real question is what does it do to the incomes of people already in the country. Does it make us better or worse off?
“I should have thought that the effect is largely neutral, perhaps with a small potential gain.”
Last week the Home Office released figures showing that immigration figures were slowing and more EU workers were leaving the UK than coming in.
Whilst the centre of London, like any major City, may look crowded by western standards, the rest of the UK is still a ‘green and pleasant’ land.
Take a five minute drive from my office in the suburbs of London and you will find yourself in leafy green belt land.
You will see cows and horses on the hundreds of farms which dot the English countryside.
You may be surprised to note that you may drive several hundred metres before you see a house. Go further North and you may have to drive for miles before you come across a dwelling.
Parts of England and Wales will look completelydeserted, and most of Scotland, which is in dire need of more immigrants to reverse falling population and outward migration trends, will seem like a wilderness.
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