How many people live in Britain – by Greg Hands MP

portrait-greghands.jpgReading from the Gospel at a carol service in my constituency two months ago, I was reminded that for more than 2,000 years Governments have felt a need to accurately count their populations.

This Government in particular has shown a fascination with gathering demographic data, especially when it is linked to equalities issues.

Nevertheless, there is a growing debate on what should be a very simple question – how many people live here?

The Office of National Statistics (ONS – http://www.statistics.gov.uk/ ) records that in mid-2006, the UK’s population stood at a rather precise sounding 60,587,000, with growth accelerating slightly to 0.5% per annum.

The reality is this: nobody really knows. Slough Borough Council recently did their own count, and their estimate was between 3,000 and 7,000 more than the ONS said. The ONS itself uprated its forward projection for 2024 for my Borough by some 30,100 in just one year – remarkable, when the population is currently around 180,000 (although nobody can be sure of that figure either).

Many observers think the UK’s population is much bigger. A leading figure at Tesco recently told one of my parliamentary colleagues that they estimate the population of the UK to be closer to 80 million, based on the volume of certain staples they sell. Tesco are probably a world leader in understanding their consumer market, so it would be foolish to disregard their opinion.

In my London Borough, for the most recent year available, 2006-07, 9,310 foreign nationals registered for a National Insurance number. That’s 5.2% of the total population of the Borough. Actually, that was only the 5th highest figure in the UK. 9,310 people in one year – that’s more than the total employed by the Borough’s largest employer, the BBC!

Recently, the Bank of England called into question the ONS’s figures (http://neweconomist.blogs.com/new_economist/2006/01/politics_and_uk.html ), and the Treasury Select Committee is currently enquiring into how Britain’s population is counted (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtreasy.htm).

If Tesco’s unofficial figure proves to be correct, a political storm is sure to erupt – just who are these extra 20 million people?

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