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Any plans to limit the UK population must be evidence based

16 Jul 2012

Any plans to try to limit the size of the UK population need to be based on evidence rather than just a ‘round number’, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today.

Today’s release of data from the UK census shows that the population of England and Wales stands at 56,075,900. This means that if the populations of Scotland and Northern Ireland do not decrease compared to the latest estimates, the UK’s population will have exceeded 63,000,000 in 2011. Net-migration is believed to be responsible for more than half of the 3.7 million increase in the population of England and Wales since 2001.

Calls to limit the population through immigration controls have increased recently, and the government is set to debate a motion that immigration cuts should be used to ensure that the population never exceeds 70 million. The UK does not currently have a target population size or any policies in place designed specifically to address the population size or make-up.

The Migration Observatory believes a reasonable debate about limits to the UK’s population size is only possible if it is based on comprehensive assessment of the impacts of limiting the population. Without this assessment there can be no evidence-based decision-making, considering the trade-offs the people of the UK might be faced with.

These trade-offs are likely in an array of policy areas. A population policy designed to be positive for the UK environment, for example, may be very different from one based on maximising economic growth, and limits to population size may create tensions with civil liberties.

No credible evidence has yet been published to show why a UK population of 70 million is preferable to a population limit of 50, 60 or 80million – or any other number.

Dr Scott Blinder, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory said: “We cannot base major policy decisions on a finger-in-the-air decision to aim for one round number or another. Policy needs to be based on evidence. At this stage there simply isn’t enough to even debate what is at stake.”

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