UK population growth needs to be reversed

Should we be trying to reduce birth rates as well as emissions per capita?

Should we be trying to reduce birth rates in the UK as well as emissions per capita?

Sustainability watchdog argues for an end to larger family tax benefits and a bigger political debate on reducing population growth and its impact

Population growth is not just a 'poor world' problem and needs to be reversed in the UK too, says sustainability NGO Forum for the Future.

The UK's population is forecast by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to increase from 61.4 million today to 70.6 million by 2030.

Forum for the Future says that whilst a population of 70 million is not inherently unsustainable, managing that level of population sustainably will require an 'extraordinary combination of planning, investment, and innovation'.

In a new paper, 'Growing pains: population and sustainability in the UK', the group says that the UK should aim to reduce that growth and its impact through more targeted family planning and an end to GDP-led growth.

'Most classical economic theory still supports the expansion of population as a means of creating an economic surplus. This analysis is now dangerously outdated because classical economics has ignored the 'boundary conditions' set on the economy by the ecological and physical limits of the planet.

'We should, therefore, aim for the redefinition of human well-being and quality of life in terms of a much broader basket of economic, social and ecological factors,' the report says.

Reform family benefits

One key recommendation is to reform tax benefit policies so as not to encourage larger families.

'Current tax structures and family leave structures give us a system where taxpayers and employers have effectively agreed to provide continually increasing levels of support for a family of any size (e.g. tax credits, tax-beneficial childcare vouchers and increases in statutory maternity pay).

'There would clearly be very difficult issues in reframing these benefits whilst creating a family-friendly society where no child is in poverty, but government may need to rethink the direction of incentives.'

The report also supports proposals to raise the retirement age to 66 in 2016 to shift attitudes away from seeing older people as a burden, as well as allowing people to 'rethink how to spread work, take time out for rearing children or caring for family or for learning throughout our lives'.

It says the obsession with immigration is wrong, and while limiting it would help to reduce UK population growth and associated impacts, it would have no impact on the global population picture.

Useful links

Growing pains: population and sustainability in the UK

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