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

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Test Lead (C#, Java, HTML, SQL) Kingston Finance

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Access/Teradata Developer, Banking, Bristol £400pd

£375 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Access / Teradata Developer - Banking - Bristol -...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home