Foreign Born Mothers Push Britain Past 61 Million

By Matthew Hickley

An immigrant baby boom is fuelling Britain's fastest population growth in half a century.

The number of people in the UK has passed 61million for the first time, figures showed yesterday.

Record immigration levels over the past decade have driven up the number of women of childbearing age.

This helped boost the number of births last year to 791,000 - up 33,000 on 2007.

For the first time in a decade, the excess of births over deaths played a bigger role than immigration itself in driving population growth, which is now twice as fast as in the 1990s.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics show that net immigration - the balance of those arriving over those leaving - fell by 44 per cent between 2007 and 2008 as economic turmoil triggered an exodus of foreign workers.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas seized on those figures as proof that Britain's borders were 'stronger than ever' and migration was 'under control.'

He insisted that previous projections showing the UK population rising to 70million within 30 years were now 'not true'.

Ignoring the baby boom, Mr Woolas said: 'Of course it's the net migration increase that has been worrying people, including me.'

Opposition critics and immigration campaigners reacted with incredulity, pointing out that immigration remains at near-record levels and it is foreignborn mothers who are pushing up the birth rate.

Population growth

Last month Home Secretary Alan Johnson ruled out any cap on immigration and told MPs he did not 'lie awake at night worrying about a population of 70million.'

Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green said last night: 'Alan Johnson says he doesn't lose sleep over population growth. Perhaps he should, instead of sleeping on the job.

'These figures show our population is still rising fast, even when the recession is driving hundreds of thousands to leave.

'This puts added pressure on housing and transport, and shows that there is still no proper control over immigration.'

The ONS figures showed 61,383,000 people living in the UK in mid-2008. The figure has leapt by two million - equivalent to a city twice the size of Birmingham - in just seven years.



The increase of 408,000 in the 12 months from mid-2007 was the steepest since the baby boom years of the early 1960s.

It represented an annual increase of 0.7 per cent - more than twice as fast as in the 1990s and three times the rate of the 1980s.

Birth rates have been rising over the past decade, with the ONS measure of fertility now standing at 1.96 children per woman, up from 1.63 in 2001 and the highest in almost 40 years.

ONS statisticians said the rising birth rate was partly due to women born in the UK having more children.

While there was 'no single explanation' for this, possible causes included women in their 20s choosing to have babies slightly earlier and changes in government policies on maternity leave and tax credits. However mass

immigration has had a greater impact on birth rates, as hundreds of thousands of women of child-bearing age have arrived in the UK.

They have boosted the number of potential mothers by two per cent since 2001.

Foreign-born women also have a higher birth rate - 2.51 children compared with 1.86 for UK-born women.

ONS statistician Roma Chappell said 56 per cent of the 33,000 increase in births between 2007 and 2008 was accounted for by the babies of mothers born outside the UK.

Some of these, however, will be of British descent.

Across Britain around one baby in four is now born to a mother from overseas.

In London the figure rises to 55 per cent, with the highest proportions last year in the boroughs of Newham (75 per cent) and Brent (73 per cent).

Slight falls in the death rate over recent years mean that 'natural' population growth - the excess of births over deaths - reached 220,000 in 2007/08.

Net immigration added 186,000 - down from 198,000 the year before.

Earlier this week separate health figures showed maternity services under severe pressure. Some 4,000 women were forced to give birth outside maternity wards last year due to a lack of midwives and beds.

While the births figure is rising, numbers at the other end of the age scale are also growing. There are now 1.3million people aged 85 or over - more than two per cent of the population.

The ONS immigration statistics for the year to December 2008 showed 512,000 arrivals, down only slightly on the 527,000 figure of the previous year.

But there was a sharp rise in the number of foreign workers leaving the UK.

A total of 395,000 people emigrated, up 24 per cent on the year before. They included 237,000 non-Britons, many of them Poles and other Eastern Europeans.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch think-tank said last night: 'It is the usual Government spin to claim these numbers as a success for immigration policy when foreign immigration is virtually unchanged at about half a million a year.

'What has really happened is that EU citizens have voted with their feet. The number leaving has doubled in the face of the deep recession in Britain. But EU migration is something over which the Government have no control whatever.

'The bottom line is that the population of the UK will exceed 70 million within 25 years even at these levels of immigration.'


East European exodus

The number of Eastern European workers returning home is now nearly as large as the numbers arriving.

Figures show that last year the total number of 'A8' citizens coming to Britain from the former Eastern Bloc states slumped by more than a quarter from 109,000 to 79,000.

At the same time the number returning to their homelands more than doubled, from 25,000 to 66,000.

The trend helped drive down net immigration to 118,000, a drop of 44 per cent and the lowest since the expansion of the EU five years ago.

Karen Dunnell, the Government's chief statistician, said the figures were likely to be due to the economic downturn.

She said: 'You have to say that probably unemployment and the economic situation, given that quite a lot from the A8 countries are coming to work, is probably having an impact.'

An estimated one million people have flocked to the UK since Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU in 2004.

The Government faced fierce criticism at the time for opting to give all new EU citizens free access to UK labour markets, while other major economies imposed strict curbs.