Britain's population is growing faster than expected because of the sustained high levels of immigration, government statisticians have said.
A political row erupted yesterday after demographers predicted that a net average of 190,000 people will migrate annually to Britain in the coming years – a sharp increase on the previous forecast of 145,000.
The Office for National Statistics has been forced to revise its projections upwards following the arrival of hundreds of thousands of east European workers, mainly Poles, after the European Union expanded in May 2004. Net migration stood at 262,000 in 2004-05 and 189,000 in 2005-06 and the UK population is now more than 60.5 million. Britain could be home to 65 million people by 2030.
Although the Home Office disputed the ONS figures yesterday, they will give fresh urgency to the Government's promise to cut numbers moving to Britain. Liam Byrne, the Immigration minister, said last night: "This shows what could happen unless we take action now. Frankly, it underlines the need for swift and sweeping changes to the immigration system over the next 12 months. Migration is bringing new wealth, but also new worries, to Britain. That means we need to drive through radical action now to make sure our borders policy is fit for the future."
Damian Green, the shadow Immigration minister, said: "This rips apart the Government's previous complacent assumptions about net immigration. Ministers have had their heads in the sand for too long."
A new Australian-style points system is being phased in from March which will give priority to highly skilled migrants such as engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs, effectively shutting the door on low-skilled workers from outside the EU.
Ministers are also conscious that migration has followed a different pattern from previous waves of immigration, with many arrivals heading for rural rather than urban areas. The sharpest increase has been in Cambridgeshire, whose chief constable asked for more government money last week to police the county in the light of its rising population.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, which campaigns against mass immigration, said: "This at last recognises that the present very high levels of immigration are likely to continue unless the Government moves from rhetoric to really effective measures."
The ONS expects an average family size of 1.84 children per woman in the long term, an increase of one tenth of a percentage point compared with 2004. Life expectancy for babies born in 2031 will also rise to 82.7 years for men and 86.2 years for women, up from 81.4 and 85.0.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics:
* UK population in mid-2006 was 60,587,000 – an increase of 349,000 on the year before.
* Net number of new migrants forecast to come to Britain each year: 171,500 to E ngland, 9,500 to Wales, 8,500 to Scotland and 500 to Northern Ireland. Total: 190,000.
* Life expectancy for babies born in 2031 will be 82.7 years for boys and 86.2 years for girls.Reuse content