Ian Birrell: More people? We should be celebrating

Ignore the misanthropes. Population growth is a sign of economic success

Share

So the population has shot up since the start of the century, yesterday's census figures showing that in England and Wales we share our space with 56.1 million other people. This is 3.7 million more than lived here a decade ago, unleashing froth and fury from the prophets of doom pushing their pet causes.

The rise is the fastest since 1801, when census figures were first published. That was also when Thomas Malthus was warning that the world could not cope with untrammeled growth in population. He was wrong then, just as Paul Ehrlich's predictions of imminent catastrophe in The Population Bomb were wrong nearly 50 years ago.

Population panics sound like common sense, so provide great fodder for cult leaders, best-selling authors and Hollywood directors. Self-evidently, they have also been wrong. There was much hysterical comment after the supposed birth of the world's seven billionth baby last year. In fact, global population growth is slowing, to the surprise of demographers, while food production is rising faster than population requirements, despite price spikes.

We should be delighted by Britain's population growth, since it is a sign of success. People are living longer thanks to advances in health care. This is why the proportion of elderly in our society is rising. But so is the number of under-fives, partly thanks to immigration, which will help a bit with the looming pension crisis.

Critics claim that Britain is over-crowded. They are wrong, whatever you might feel about being packed into a crushed commuter carriage. The UK is only the 39th most crowded nation; we could add almost 10 times the latest increase and still be less packed than the likes of Belgium or Holland. Our population growth rate is much nearer the bottom of the global table than it is the top. Furthermore, as the BBC's Mark Easton pointed out last month, only 2.27 per cent of the English landscape is built on.

For decades, shrinking London was seen as a clapped-out capital in decline. Now it has recorded the biggest population increase in Britain – and it is no coincidence it is our most successful region. It is also the least hostile to immigration.

Ignore the misanthropes: no country has a perfect size, and population predictions are always wrong. A rising population presents challenges for public services and highlights regional imbalances. But far better to have the problems faced by successful economies such as the US and Germany than those faced by the likes of Greece or Portugal, with falling populations, and their youngest and most able emigrating.

Twitter: @ianbirrell

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy