Telegraph’s ONS story barking up the wrong tree

by Peter Sands | 29.05.2016

“Population to surge by four million due to mass immigration that will ‘change the face of England forever’”, screamed the Daily Telegraph on its website on Thursday. It went on to write about “dramatic figures” forecasting a “jump” in England’s population of 7.5%, and a population “explosion” in some areas. The Telegraph quoted Vote Leave’s Chris Grayling as saying: “There is no doubt that EU migration is at the heart of this.”

This was a great example of polemic masquerading as reporting.

Never mind that the overall projections aren’t new – the 2014-based National Population Projections were first released in October 2015. Never mind that a 7.5% growth in population over the decade to 2024 equates to annual growth of about 0.7% (Does growth of less than one per cent per year really constitute a surge?). And never mind that immigration accounts for less than half of this forecast growth in England’s population.

To be fair to the Telegraph, some of the ONS figures for England are indeed dramatic – just not the ones the article highlights. Lower down, the Telegraph article shows the number of people over 65 in England is projected to grow by 20.4% between 2014 and 2024, far faster than the rest of the population.

It is this that is changing the face of England: we’re getting more wrinkled, our hair greyer. Indeed the number of local authority areas where at least a quarter of the population is over 65 will triple – from 28 to 84 areas. This trend – which really can be called a surge – prompts very different thoughts about the impact of immigration.

With growth in the number of pensioners projected to be roughly six times the rate of the growth of those of working age, those in work and paying taxes will face an ever increasing burden of paying for pensions, health care and social services for the elderly.

In fact, if you strip out immigration, the working population of England will stay roughly static over the next decade. That working population will be supporting an elderly population that will be not just a fifth bigger, but much older on average and thus much more dependent on health and social care. So, far from being a challenge to those in work, working age immigrants will help bear the burden of England’s ageing population.

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Many of the Telegraph’s readership are of a certain age – pensioners already, or bound to be by 2024. They should be concerned about whether England’s hard-pressed working population will be able or willing to take on the costs of paying for this dramatic increase in the numbers of elderly people. Without immigration, the maths suggest that the working population would face higher taxes, or that support to the elderly would need to be cut. Taxes paid by working-age immigrants will make this burden more manageable, not less.

Immigration undoubtedly brings challenges. But so does a rapidly ageing population. We would be foolish to ignore the fact that immigration can help our society absorb the impact of the profound demographic changes we face.

Peter Sands contributed this article to InFacts in a personal capacity; the views he expresses are his own. Sands is a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and chairman of the International Commission on Global Health Risk Framework Initiative. Until June 2015 Sands was Group CEO of Standard Chartered Plc.

Edited by Geert Linnebank

2 Responses to “Telegraph’s ONS story barking up the wrong tree”

  • Dear InFacts,
    Please could you publish and publicise the figures for the following:
    1. Amount of farm support coming to UK farmers from the EU? … So rural voters can see what they risk throwing away;
    2. Migration (scaled by population?) into Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France? … So the pan-continental nature of the issue, which has little to do with UK being in EU, can be made clear;
    3. How much the NHS has to spend patching up drunks and fighters on Friday and Saturday nights? … So that the real causes of the NHS finding crisis are more obvious.
    Ross Hunter