Ageing UK workforce 'needs more immigrants'

An increase in immigration will be necessary in the coming years to maintain the size of the UK's working-age population, according to the Government's statistics agency.

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An ageing indigenous population and a declining fertility rate mean that more Britons will die than are born by 2025, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is now estimating.
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Net migration bolsters population growth

“Given a higher number of deaths and fewer births are projected, net international migration is expected to play an increasing role in population growth,” said James Robards, an ONS population and household projection statistician.“These projections suggest slower growth than we’ve previously said. This is because of lower assumptions both about future levels of fertility and mortality improvements.”The ONS projection coincided with publication of research by the think-tank, the International Longevity Centre (ILC), suggesting that as a result of population ageing, early retirements prompted by Covid-19 and the end of free movement from the EU since Brexit, the UK economy could see a shortfall of 2.6 million workers by 2030.

Perfect storm causing labour shortfall

The report, Plugging the Gap, calls on the Government to develop a comprehensive workforce strategy to tackle future shortages and to consider the role of migration and automation in addressing labour market gaps.Prof Les Mayhew, Head of Global Research at ILC and Professor of Statistics at Bayes Business School, said: “Population ageing, the pandemic and Brexit have come together to form the perfect storm. If we continue with business-as-usual, we are going to see huge shortfalls hitting all sectors of the economy.“The Government has formulated a set of strong policy priorities to develop infrastructure, health and care over the coming years, which will place huge demands on the economy. But if we fail to address the workforce challenge, we simply won’t have enough people for the jobs.”

Population shrinkage by 2058

According to the ONS projection, the size of the UK's population will increase by 3.2% (to 69.2 million) by 2030 but only because of a net rise of 2.2 million in the number of immigrants.But by 2058, the nation's population - based on assumptions over the fertility rate, deaths and migration - would begin to shrink.Madeleine Sumption, Director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, told the Financial Times that inbound migration tended to increase the working-age population and could bolster public finances in the short term.“It looks like net migration will help the UK avert population decline - which is something that is very difficult for governments to manage,” she said.But Madeleine Sumption added that in the long run, net migration was not necessarily “a wonderful solution” to the ageing population. “It mitigates the pressures of ageing rather than solving them.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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