A portrait of Britain in 2031

According to the latest prediction, Britain's population will exceed 70 million by 2031. The country will be a very different place by then

The causes of the relentless increase over the recent centuries in the UK's population – now projected to pass 70 million within 25 years – are many and varied.

They range from medical advances and growing individual prosperity to greater life expectancy and the waves of immigration.

The UK is now home to almost 61 million people, some 20 million more than a century ago and 50 million more than 1801, with the population growing in 99 of the past 100 years. Predictions that the number would stabilise at between 55 million and 60 million have been torn up and population growth is accelerating again, pushing the issue towards the top of the political agenda.

The rate of increase has even taken Whitehall's statisticians by surprise, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday revising its population projections upwards. On current trends, the ONS now forecasts the numbers in Britain will grow to 62.8 million in 2011, 65 million in 2016, 67.2 million in 2021, 69.3 million in 2026 and 71.1 million in 2031, 78.6 million in 2051 and 85.3 million in 2081. That means that the UK's population is now rising by about 400,000 a year.

The face of Britain was transformed in the 19th century by the massive movements of people in the Industrial Revolution, and it will continue changing. Pressure for housing will mean swathes of countryside disappearing under concrete.

The country's demographic make-up is also altering rapidly, with Leicester set to become the first city where whites are in a minority by the end of next decade.

Just over half the population growth is caused by increases in family size – the average woman now has 1.84 children – and by greater life expectancy. Boys and girls born today will live an average of 77.2 years and 81.5 years respectively; that is forecast to rise to 82.7 years and 86.2 years for those born in 2031.

The rest of the growth has been driven by higher-than-expected levels of migration in recent years, with a net annual influx of about 190,000 compared with previous estimates of 145,000. Population increases are predicted for the whole of the UK, although they are expected to be smaller in Scotland than elsewhere.

The figures also confirm that a demographic time bomb is ticking, with the number of people over the state pension age – 11.3 million, and projected to reach 12.2 million in 2010 – for the first time exceeding the number of children.

The ONS stressed yesterday that, rather than making firm forecasts, its projections were based on current trends and that they became less reliable the further they looked into the future. Previous statisticians have got it spectacularly wrong when peering into the crystal ball. When the experts of the 1960s extrapolated the effects of the post-war "baby boom", they concluded that the population would be 75 million by 2007.

But Liam Byrne, the Immigration minister, said: "These projections show what could happen unless we take action now."

He said they underlined the need for "swift and sweeping" changes to the immigration system in the pipeline, including the introduction of an Australian-style points based system for migrants from outside the European Union.

The Tories are calling for annual limits on the numbers of new arrivals admitted into the country. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The shocking acceleration in the rate of population growth makes it more urgent than ever that the Government should introduce a properly controlled immigration system." Rosamund McDougall, of the Optimum Population Trust think-tank, said: "There is no parallel in our history for population growth of this magnitude. It will blow a massive hole in any national climate change strategy, impose huge strains on our infrastructure and environment, seriously damage quality of life and make Britain one of the most crowded and stressful places in the world."

A history of population growth


Poor nutrition, famine and regular invasions kept Britain's population between two and four million for much of the first millennium of the Common Era. Average life expectancy was short, childbirth was deadly and making a living from the land precarious. Cities rarely comprised more than a few thousand people as the vast majority of the population lived in the country. London remained the only major city, with about 15,000 residents by 1100, growing to 80,000 by the late 14th century.


Britain's population was cut by successive waves of the bubonic plague, which first struck in 1348 and returned throughout much of the 14th and 15th centuries. The bacterial disease hit urban areas hard, killing 30,000 Londoners and wiping out between 30 and 50 per cent of the entire population. Disease caused by conflicts such as the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War also hit numbers. Cities continued to grow but remained unpopular due to poor sanitation and living conditions.


During the 19th century, Britain experienced an unprecedented period of rapid population growth spurred on by the Industrial Revolution. As living conditions and health care improved alongside economic growth, Britain's population doubled every 50 years, from 10 million in 1801, when the first census was taken, to more than 40 million by the turn of the century. Industrial cities such as Manchester and Glasgow increased their population by a factor of 10 in just 100 years.

20th Century

Although Britain's population continued to expand throughout the 20th century, the rate slowed down from the phenomenal explosion seen during the previous century. The First World War and the flu epidemic that followed heralded a drop in the population from 45 million in 1911 to 42 million 10 years later. The decades following the Second World War saw a large increase in the UK's population as migrants from the West Indies and the Asian sub-continent flocked to Britain to find work.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor