Population to reach 74 million by 2036 after 'unprecedented migration' levels

The UK population could rise from 67.0 million in mid-2021 to 73.7 million by mid-2036 (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)
The UK population could rise from 67.0 million in mid-2021 to 73.7 million by mid-2036 (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

The population of the UK is on course to leap by 10 per cent by 2036 to nearly 74 million, official projections revealed on Tuesday.

The Office for National Statistics said the increase was almost entirely down to net migration — which is due to account for 6.1 million of the projected population growth — and would be followed by a further leap of nearly three million over the following decade.

The increases mean that the population, which stood at 67 million in 2021, will pass 70 million in two years and hit 73.7 million by 2036 before growing to 76.5 million by 2046.

The statisticians emphasised that the latest figures are based on current trends and that the projected growth in the population could reduce, or increase, as a result of changes in government policies and other factors.

But the scale of the anticipated population increase — which follows an earlier rise of 8.9 million in the number of UK inhabitants between 1996 and 2021 — will pile added pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he struggles to bring net migration numbers down and address public concerns about housing shortages and demand for public services.

Unveiling Tuesday’s figures, the ONS said that “unprecedented international migration” lay behind the faster than expected UK population growth and that this country was on course to see the arrival of 13.7 million more people from abroad by 2036 under existing trends. It said that emigration over the same period was projected to be 7.6 million, giving a net inflow of 6.1 million, and that it was assuming annual inward net migration into the UK of 315,000 from 2028 onwards.

The ONS added that natural change will only result in 500,000 more people being added to the population by 2036 under current trends as 10.8 million births are balanced by 10.3 million deaths. James Robards, the head of population projections at the ONS, said that the first landmark figure of a 70 million UK population would be hit in 2026 and that further rises were projected to occur unless migration levels and other factors changed in the coming years.

He added: “Today’s projections suggest that the UK’s population is likely to grow faster than we previously published, reflecting our most recent estimates of international migration and our new assumptions about future international migration.

“We are living in an ever-changing world. In setting our latest assumptions we have sought expert advice, which along with the latest data, point towards the likelihood of higher levels of international migration over the long-term.”

He added that the figures were intended to help the Government and others plan in key policy areas including the number of pensions to be paid, the number of school places and how many hospitals would be required to cater for the population. Housing demand and prices will also be affected by the increased demand from a larger population.