Government must urgently establish the Office for Demographic Change (ODC) says think-tank report
The Government must urgently establish a new Demographic Authority, modelled on the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), according to a new pamphlet by think-tank Civitas. The report, authored by businessman and Conservative Peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, argues that difficult decisions on the consequences of population growth have been kicked into the long grass by successive Governments, pre-occupied with short-term electoral cycles. This has contributed to the decline in trust between the Government and the general public, who feel that some of their major concerns are not being recognised and addressed.
The UK population has grown fast in recent years – an increase of 6.6 million since 2001 with a further increase of 5.6 million expected by 2041. In what is a geographically small island, the UK is already relatively crowded by comparison with France and Germany. This would be fine if it were what the British people wanted but polling shows that a clear majority of British people think that the country is already overcrowded and that steps should be taken to prevent population pressures becoming greater .
Overcrowded Islands? The challenges of demographic change for the United Kingdom, published today by Civitas sets out the impacts of population growth and their inevitable implications. The pamphlet argues that successive Governments have focused too much on economic arguments – themselves often flawed – without equal attention being paid to the non-economic consequences of rapid population growth. These include long term damage to our environment and our ecology, possible shortages of food and water and a general reduction in our sense of national belonging – all important aspects of maintaining a society that is at ease with itself. Polling shows that a significant majority of people (74%) believe the government should have a national strategy addressing population issues.
This would be best delivered by establishing a new Demographic Authority, along the lines of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) which has proven to be successful in providing independent and authoritative analysis of the UK’s public finances. The public body could be called the Office for Demographic Change (ODC) and its mission would be to establish a proper evidence base, to provide expert advice and recommend actions to local and national government as well as other bodies, to undertake research into demographic development and to draw up long term strategies to meet the challenges of population growth. The ODC should report annually to Parliament and provide an authoritative basis for public discussion and policy formulation free from anecdote and prejudice.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, report author, said:
“In an article in 2007, the Prime Minister called for a ‘grown-up discussion’ about population growth in this country. Sadly, that has not occurred and policies on demographic change have been either careless or absent – with politicians focused on the short-term electoral cycle. The lack of thinking and planning around this critical issue, which has deep rooted implications for future generations, has left the electorate feeling powerless. The gap between the electorate’s wishes and successive Government’s policies is large and could, if it is not addressed, have profound implications for our politics. I therefore call on this Government to act where others have manifestly failed by establishing the Office for Demographic Change (ODC), an independent body where calm, rational, evidence-based discussions can take place, and from which carefully considered policy decisions can flow. Demography has a long fuse and it will be fifteen or twenty years before decisions made today have their full effect. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to look down the road at the country we may be leaving them”.