13 January 2022

A British Baby Boom: we should aim for a population of 100m in the next two decades

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Legislators should be in no doubt that we are hurtling towards a demographic crisis. ONS figures released just yesterday reveal that the number of people aged over the age of 85 will almost double in the next 25 years. More significantly still, there will be 59,000 more deaths than births over the next decade.

A shrinking number of young people and a growing number of old people. Fewer people at work and more people in need of pensions. A shrinking tax base and a growing expenditure bill. As CapX’s editor-in-chief Robert Colvile put it last year, ‘Britain is turning into an elderly care system with a state attached’.

Less production and more state spending per person is set to make the UK less nimble, less able to weather international storms, less innovative, and frankly less relevant.

With this looming, crippling set of budgetary obligations, coupled with the rocketing population growth in Asia and Africa, the UK and our allies risk being relegated on the world stage. As China grows to become the largest economy, few are ready for the seismic shift already underway. The shift to a world no longer dominated by the United States. Few have considered the realities of living in a under the economic thumb of a new, much less agreeable hegemon.

But it’s not just concern for global influence or indeed national debt that should concern us. The quality of life and opportunities available to the people of this country should be put above everything else.

And the blunt truth of the matter is that families want more children. In recent years the gap between ‘lifetime fertility intentions’ and the number of children families actually have across the UK, Europe, and the US has plummeted. Across the West, families want more children than they end up having. This is a sad and sorry situation.

There’s no doubt that the exorbitant cost of both housing and childcare plays a big part in this fertility gap. It should be one of the Government’s top priorities to enable families to have the children they want to. That means fixing our regulated-to-destruction housing market and liberalising childcare, particularly the crippling staff to child ratio rules that price too many families out.

The fact of the matter is that in the 19th century the UK grew great not despite, but in part thanks to a baby boom. Those who say the UK lacks the housing, infrastructure, or jobs for millions more Brits are simply ignorant of history. It is millions more Brits who will themselves create the housing, infrastructure, and jobs this country is crying out for.

This is the natural growth and evolution of a nation. Remember too that Brits having more babies is a gradual process, not the kind of sharp shock that risks damaging communities. It’s also a process which will mean more brainpower, more innovation, more production. A greater chance that the next Google or SpaceX will come from these shores.

There is no reason at all why the UK can’t transform some of our more dilapidated coastal towns to match the population density, world class infrastructure, and indeed architectural prestige of places like Hong Kong, Singapore, or New York.

As Sam Bowman wrote on these pages last year, turning a run-down, post industrial, brownfield site into a glittering Hong Kong 2.0 would be just the kind of ambitious, forward-thinking project this country so badly needs. Flat, barren concrete replaced by shining skyscrapers and city parks. Beautiful space for millions more Brits – real regeneration, real jobs, and real growth – not simply shovelling around an ever-shrinking pot of public money as we try to manage our burgeoning national debt. Are we really that far removed from our Victorian spirit of industry that we believe, of all places, this kind of growth can no longer happen here?

Frankly, the aim should be at least 100 million Brits in the next two decades. And, for that matter, at least one billion Americans. Denying families the children they want, crippling the country with greater debt and stagnant infrastructure, and submitting to nefarious far-flung autocracies as a result is simply too costly an alternative.

More politicians must take on this mantle. To empower families. To strengthen the United Kingdom. To build things again. And to save the Western democratic order. When it comes to population, we cannot fall into the trap of accepting national decline.

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Tom Harwood is Political Correspondent at GB News, where he presents The Briefing.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.