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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 October 2007, 20:33 GMT 21:33 UK
Can the UK cope with more people?
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

A crowd of people
Many see the rising population as a good thing

Migration, along with improved life expectancy and fertility levels, are apparently fuelling a British population boom.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the population of the UK is set to increase by 4.4 million to 65 million by 2016. Researchers estimate there will be 70 million people living within its borders by 2028.

But, as Britain's population grows, so does controversy surrounding the issue.

With limited resources and space, many are asking whether Britain can cope with such a growth in numbers.

Influx of workers

Some already fear it can't.

Last month the chief constable of Cambridgeshire Police, Julie Spence, warned that her force needed more staff and resources to cope with the pressures caused by a sudden influx of migrant workers.

There will be terrible congestion on transport and infrastructure especially in the southern part of the country
David Coleman
University of Oxford

Then, a Home Office report this month stated that every UK region reported difficulties providing housing, health and education because of increased migration.

The Local Government Association says steep council tax rises may be needed as a result.

David Coleman, professor of demographics at the University of Oxford who has made similar predictions about population growth, says such changes will have a big impact on life in the UK.

"House prices or dwelling prices in general are going to be sustained by it, which I think is a bad thing.

"There will be terrible congestion on transport and infrastructure, especially in the southern part of the country, which is going to be even more overloaded than it is already."

Local level

Sir Simon Milton, chairman of the Local Government Association, says the real issue is not a matter of whether migration and population growth is a good or bad thing for Britain, it is whether there will be enough funding for those areas most affected by the increase in numbers.

"The evidence shows that industries such as fruit-picking and residential care would risk collapse without migrant labour.

"The problem is that the money generated isn't finding its way back down to the local level. Official statistics on how many migrants are coming and where they are going are woefully inadequate.

"No-one has a real grasp of where migrants are settling so much-needed funding for local services isn't getting to the right places."

A UK power station
A bigger population will mean a larger environmental impact

This puts pressure on education and housing and can lead to community tension and conflict, he says.

As well as the impact on society, the Optimum Population Trust (OPT) think-tank says the environmental consequences of more people consuming more resources could be devastating.

"There is no parallel in our history for population growth of this magnitude," says Rosamund McDougall, of the OPT's advisory council.

"It will blow a massive hole in any national climate change strategy, impose huge strains on our infrastructure and environment, seriously damage quality of life and make Britain one of the most crowded and stressful places in the world.

"It may well pose questions about energy, food and resources that we cannot answer."

She warns that a population of 85 million would require more than 40 million homes - 15 million more than we have now. She equates the predicted growth in population to more than three new Londons.

Economic benefits

But there are others who see population growth as a benefit to Britain, and say the country can absorb any such increase.

Many economists believe mass migration has benefited the UK economy.

Campaign group Business for New Europe also argues Britain's growth rate has remained healthy because it has opened its doors to new workers from the East.

The immigrant community has contributed 6 billion to the British economy - that is why our economy is so strong
Keith Vaz MP

Keith Vaz, MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, agrees.

He says people want to come to the UK because it is "the best country in the world to live and work in" and that migrants are in fact helping to boost the economy rather than drain it of resources.

"The immigrant community has contributed 6bn to the British economy - that is why our economy is so strong," he says.

But Martin Weale, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, says that, although a larger population leads to a bigger aggregate GDP, having more people also means more has to be spent on them.

However, he says savings may be made when migrants of working age come to Britain, because taxpayers have not had to pay for their education.

But in terms of whether Britain could cope economically with a much bigger population, he believes it could.

"The real question is what does it do to the incomes of people already in the country. Does it make us better or worse off?

"I should have thought that the effect is largely neutral, perhaps with a small potential gain."

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28 Jun 06 |  UK Politics

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