The population scaremongerers are pedalling the same nonsense as 18th-century sceptics

Don Flynn, director of the Migrants' Rights Network, rebuts the population myths being pedalled by anti-immigration MPs like Nicholas Soames and Frank Field.


Don Flynn is the director of the Migrants’ Rights Network

The advocates of strict immigration controls have been on a rollercoaster ride in recent weeks as more and more evidence has accrued about the damage done to UK plc. by the sort of measures they espouse.

The negative effect these policies have had on the capacity of the higher education sector to attract foreign students has been extensively reported, particularly in the context of the crisis that has descended on London Metropolitan University.

But alongside this there are also the damaging assessments of the effect of immigration measures on attracting foreign investment, the subject of a report from UK Trade and Investment back in July, and the complaints emanating from big players in the hospitality sector trying to win a bigger share of the global tourism market.

But never mind all this: the immigration hardliners have what they think is a solid fallback position for their arguments which we see once again in the Parliamentary debate today.

The issue which anti-immigration hardliners Nicholas Soames MP (Conservative) and Frank Field MP (Labour) will be pushing on this occasion is their concerns about the upward trend in the UK’s population.

The national census figures published last month suggest the country hitting the 70 million figure sometime before 2030 if the current trend continues.

Messrs Soames and Field’s concerns about the rise in population mirror anxieties in the wider population. The time for the Parliamentary debate itself was secured by the success of the immigration-sceptic think tank Migration Watch UK winning the backing of more than 100,000 members of the public for a petition it launched calling for a halt to population growth back in October 2011.

We can expect the backers of this motion will trade on the commonsense of the epoch, to the effect the country is overcrowded and congestion in our cities and in the use of our public services comes from the larger numbers of people pushed into an inevitably finite area.

If things go on as they are, as Migration Watch tells us, we will need to build seven cities the size of Birmingham to accommodate all the newcomers who will be arriving over the next decade and a half. This is nonsense.

Cities in the UK often do seem overcrowded and there is pressure on scarce resources, like public transport systems or housing, which is easy to blame on population growth. But our towns and cities have given the appearance of having too many people at other stages in our history, such as the early decades of the 19th century when overcrowding and insanitary conditions were the stuff of legend. But this was a period when the population of the country hovered around the 10-20 million mark – a third of what we have today.

At the turn of the 18th and 19th century the early pioneers of economics, with the Reverend Robert Malthus to the fore, arrived at some very gloomy prognosis about what would happen if population exceeded the 9 million mark. The increased demand for limited resources would cause an uncontrollable escalation of hunger with famine and disease following in their wake.

They were famously wrong in all these predictions, with the rapid increases in population over the next 200 years being more strongly associated with increases in productivity and the supply of goods and services needed to overcome dire want coming from the increase in the number of hands that were available to do the work.

As our populations have grown we have become, paradoxically from the standpoint of those stuck in the doomster frame of mind, better fed, better housed, wealthier, and generally able to look forward to longer and healthier lives all around. Maybe Malthus just got the timescale wrong and the crash he predicted lies at the point of the 70 million population rather than the 10 million he was dreading. But what is the evidence that the brick wall we are supposed to heading for exists in reality rather than just in theory?

In terms of the physical space available, the British Isles seem to have a very safe margin before overcrowding becomes a real issue for concern. With urban sprawl still only accounting for around 9% of the land UK mass, and with housing accounting for just over 1% of the total, it seems fairly clear space is not the main issue here.

The Parliamentary debate will provide an opportunity for the anti-immigrant lobby to crawl back some of the terrain they feel they have lost on in the public debate in recent months, as the evidence piles up that controls and restrictions are more likely to make us poorer than better off. They will insist the problems of major foreign currency earners like higher education and tourism can be set aside against the frightening fact large numbers of people are living in the UK. Better to take the hit in terms of lower growth and reduced competitiveness for UK companies, than to allow the population to rise to 70 million.

Hopefully there will be enough MPs around today who will dig their heels in against this dangerous scare-mongering. The issue is not population as such, but whether we organise our affairs to improve the standard of life for citizens, with the absolute numbers of people residing in the UK being absolutely secondary to that.

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13 Responses to “The population scaremongerers are pedalling the same nonsense as 18th-century sceptics”

  1. Anglecynn

    You are completely and utterly deluded if you think the status quo will end up in bliss.

  2. Sean L

    One aspect of this that gets no notice from the ostensibly “anti-racist” do-gooders is the negative effect of mass immigration on the countries the immigrants are *leaving*. How can it be good for a developing country when all its most talented people are led to believe that their best option is to make a new life in Europe or the US?

    When I speak to my family members in Kenya, for example, they all think of coming here. When I tell them that in many ways they can have a higher standard of living at home, they think I’m mad. Thus mass-immigration is demoralising for them and by extension their homeland.

    But it’s a direct consequence of the open doors immigration policy being called for here. It’s ironic that it’s promoted by “anti-capitalist” left wingers who imagine themselves as saviours of the poor. When the reality is that their as self-interested as any “capitalist” and have their own political and professional interests to advance, which in this case amounts to appearing all enlightened and liberal, while condemning anyone opposing them as de facto bigoted “little Englanders”, if not outright racists.

    Mass immigration is now a business with many professional and economic interests at stake. Not least to those puporting to speak for “migrants rights”. But the people in the developing world are also entitled to rights. In this case the right to not have all their ambitious young people desiring to depart from the land of their birth.

  3. Cari_esky

    The people who leave Kenya to come here or anywhere else do so on their own free will. They are not forced to.

  4. Sean L

    The point is that immigration into the UK can have a detrimental effect on the countries from which the immigrants have departed, i.e. some of the poorest on earth; and that this is scarcely recognised by those who otherwise purport to speak on behalf of the poorest people on earth. People in this country have previously complained about a “brain drain” to the US. How much more of a drain is it when the brightest people from already very poor countries decide to make *their* homes elsewhere? How can one defend that state of affairs by welcoming them here, on the one hand, while claiming to be acting in the interests of the poorest, on the other? How will those poor countries ever develop if their most talented types have emigrated here? The pro-immigration activists have their own vested interests in promoting immigration to this country. Whether or not immigration is beneficial to this country it can be detrimental to the places they leave. Why should the condition of those places not also be worthy of consideration, especially by those who otherwise claim to be acting in the interests of the poorest?

  5. Dave Brigg

    The issue of poaching talented workers from developing countries has not been ignored. The previous Labour government stopped the NHS from employing doctors from developing countries precisely because of the effect this was having on their healthcare systems, which were short-staffed. There has also been a long-running campaign to stop Indian call centres employing graduates in fields such as engineering, because of the harm it does to India’s economic development. It is difficult however, when call-centres working for UK companies pay higher wages than are available to many scientists or engineers.

  6. Dave Brigg

    ‘Anglecynn’ – isn’t this the Old English name for the largely Anglo-Saxon population of these isles before 1066? How ironic to post an adverse comment about immigration under the name of a group of illegal immigrants whose effect on native culture was far more harmful than anything we see today.

  7. think_about_it

    It is disingenuous to talk about physical space in the population debate. This is an issue of resource use. Sure we can fit the world’s population into a space the size of Texas, but our impact on the world’s resources stretches well beyond the amount of space we take up (

    The same argument applies on a national scale. If (and I mean if) the existing UK population, living at an acceptable standard. is overstretching the countries resources, then it makes sense to consider limiting the UK population. This is not about being elitist, or racist.

    Presenting such a poorly reasoned argument on a website such as this is damaging because it closes down the population debate, meaning that the issue is only ever discussed in the right-wing media.

    UK population is an issue because of resource use. Don’t close down the debate because of some preconceived agenda about immigration.

  8. treborc

    So it had nothing to do with labour ensuring wages increased for nurses and cleaners . The fact is labour had little choice because people asked why are we still bringing in nurses when we now have enough here under going training. Labour decided to end it’s employment in Asia of nurses for the UK, today our Universities are training up enough nurses although to be honest if the Tories have their way wages will decrease again back to the pre 1990’s, we may have to look again at employing cheap labour for our NHS

  9. Newsbot9

    That Frank Field is still a member of the labour party demonstrates how they actively want to disassociate themselves from anyone even slightly left of centre.

    The damage caused by the political attacks on Universities is going to cost this country billions and a significant proportion of it’s universities and research, sadly.

  10. Newsbot9

    Given Britain’s bright people are fleeing abroad…

    Also, what are you suggesting? Remember, one standard for all. So, British people should not be allowed to emigrate?

  11. Newsbot9

    Yes, it is. How many million of the poor must die and be replaced with cheaper immigrant labour? There is no actual resource crisis, of course. It’s entirely down to your 1% hogging more and more of the wealth, capital expanding it’s share of GDP at the expense of wages.

    Stop making wages worth less, then let’s talk seriously – until then, you’re simply trying to kill people off.

  12. frt

    i think you have proved his point. immigration is always bad for the host population. it was bad for the native britons in 500 AD and bad for the native americans after 1492. it is bad for the native britons now. that’s because more people with the same land area = shitter life

  13. Stephen Wigmore

    The issue is not space per-se, it’s geography. London is full and we cannot accept another 8 million people if that just means concreting over the entire green-belt. There is plenty of space across the rest of the country but people don’t want to go there due to the continuing imbalance of the economy.

    We can’t take more than a few million more people crammed into London, but properly re-balance the economy so there’s growth across the North, East Anglia, the South West, Scotland, Wales, NI, then we could cheerfully double our population and still have room left over.

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