UK population growing at its fastest rate for a half a century

Britain's population is growing at its fastest rate for nearly half a century because of a higher birthrate and increased life expectancy, the Office for National Statistics disclosed yesterday.

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The number of people in the UK stood at 62.3m last June, a rise of 470,000 on the estimated figure a year earlier. The increase is roughly equivalent to the population growing by a city the size of Liverpool or Bradford in just 12 months. Statisticians said the 0.8 per cent rise was the highest annual growth rate since the "baby boom" year of 1962. Just over half of the increase is attributed to "natural change" – the difference between numbers of births and deaths – with the rest caused by immigration.

There are 200,000 more women of child-bearing age than ten years ago, many of whom were born abroad and tend to have larger families than their British-born counterparts. As a result there were 134,000 more births last year than in 2001-02.

Statisticians said another factor in the growing birthrate was the number of women born in the 1960s and 1970s who are tending to delay having children until an older age.

At the other end of the age scale, there were 47,000 fewer deaths than eight years ago as longevity increases thanks to medical advances, notably in the treatment of heart disease.

The numbers of people aged over 85 have more than doubled in a generation, from 600,000 in 1981 to 1.4 million today.

In particular men are living longer: they now make up almost one-third of Britain's over-85s, compared with 23 per cent in 1981.

Migration accounted for 230,000 of the population increase as 574,000 immigrants came to the country last year while 344,000 people migrated overseas.

The net increase was higher than in previous years, but the change was mainly caused by a drop in the numbers of people emigrating.

The 0.8 per cent population rise between 2009 and 2010 compares with an average of 0.6 per cent annual growth earlier in the decade, 0.3 per cent in the 1990s and 0.2 per cent in the 1980s.

The number of people in Britain has risen by more than three million in eight years and on current trends is heading towards 70 million towards the end of the next decade. The steady growth has financial implications for the country because of the growing pressures on schools, housing, the National Health Service and the social care budget.

The think tank Population Matters also warned that the increase made it more difficult to meet demands for food and energy, to reduce carbon emissions and protect Britain's green spaces.

Its chief executive, Simon Ross, said: "It is not in our interests for the population of the UK to keep increasing year in, year out. We ask individuals to consider the environment and sustainability when thinking about how many children they have."

He also urged the Government to improve family planning services and sex education, to limit tax credits and benefit payments to a couple's first two children and for tougher action to limit immigration.

Damian Green, the Immigration minister, highlighted the net migration figures: "This is yet more evidence of the impact that a decade of uncontrolled migration has had on the UK. We are in the process of fixing the immigration system we inherited to ensure that any migration-related population growth is sustainable and brings benefits to the UK.

"Net migration has been too high but the controls and reforms we are introducing will bring it back down to the tens of thousands."

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