City Eye: Facts on a plate: our population is at least 77 million

It is the statistic that dare not speak its name, though eventually it must. It has huge ramifications for the civil and political life of this country, the health of the equity markets and, most immediately, the residential property market. So don't forget you read it here first: the population of the UK is presently somewhere between 77 and 80 million.

The 2001 census, already hopelessly out of date and easy to avoid for those who find filling in forms a trifle inelegant, numbered us at a little under 59 million. But as statistics go, that one's most definitely a damned lie.

My sources for the above statement are good, but scared of admitting the truth for fear of incurring the wrath of Whitehall. It's like the best way of monitoring illegal drug consumption: forget the pious statements from ministers – the foolproof method is to sample our water and the effluent in it. That's easily the best way of monitoring what the nation has been consuming.

Consumption – that's the thing. Based on what we eat, one big supermarket chain reckons there are 80 million people living in the UK. The demand for food is a reliable indicator; as Sir Richard Branson says, you can have all the money in the world but you can only eat onelunch and one dinner.

The supermarket in question was privately lobbying the Competition Commission to let it grow its market share. The argu- ment, reasonably enough, was that the market was far bigger than the regulator realised, so expanding the network was fair.

I have a second, respectable, source. A major, non-commercial agricultural institution reckons there are 77 million of us in the UK. Again, its reckoning is based on what we eat.

That faint background noise you're hearing as you read this is the sound of everyone slithering off the record. Why? In political terms, standing behind these figures would be to toss a hand grenade into a vat of gasoline. People would be hounded out of a job for scaremongering.

The Office for National Statistics' figures, published last week, predict a population of 75 million by 2051. It's an honest estimate but horribly wide of the mark because number counting doesn't work effectively. If you want to know how many there are of us, ask a food firm.

If the true numbers were revealed, the Little Englanders and xenophobes would come out in force about the evils of immigration. But that's what made America great in the 19th century, and it's a driving force of our economy right now. It's also anti-inflationary.

David Buik, a money manager with broker BGC Partners, was talking of "one million Eastern Europeans unaccounted for in London" on television last week. I suspect he's right if somewhat conservative in his estimate. How many do you see working in the construction industry and waiting at tables?

And when I say "anti-inflationary", I mean they are getting rotten wages. Dignified by the term "cheap labour", the hidden hordes will do well for the services sector, among others. People are assets – to maintain and to be maintained – so we are wealthier as a nation.

All of which is reflected in strong economic demand and markets see-sawing between optimism over what we all see on the streets (that 77 million figure feels right to me) and the possibility of something nasty if the Bank of England credit-crunch prognosis is correct (to echo last week, I think next spring will be unpleasant).

As for housing, property magnates and chief executives of housing associations alike say the expanding population means serious demand for the foreseeable future, credit crunch or no. Next week, I'll look at the detail of this argument.

martin@martinfdbaker.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore