In Focus

Migrant ‘exodus’ from UK triggers ‘biggest population drop since WWII’

New research suggests population has fallen by 1.3 million as foreign-born workers flee during pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled an “unprecedented exodus” of migrant workers that has caused the UK population to plummet and may result in “profound” damage to London’s economy, according to a new study.

The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCE) says that analysis of estimated labour figures suggests more than half a million non-UK-born people left in the year from September 2019, contributing to a total 1.3 million drop in the population. 

The study findings - which contradict official data - indicate that the population of London alone has fallen by 700,000, equivalent to around 8%. If this decline continues, “the medium to long-term implications for London will be profound”, the study authors warn.

The experts “draw a clear link between the departure of so many foreign-born nationals and the high number of job losses in hard-hit sectors such as hospitality, which has typically relied on overseas workers”, the Financial Times reports.

The ESCE’s findings are at odds with those of the Office for National Statistics, which says the UK population rose by 350,000 in 2020.

But the ONS has faced challenges in gathering information on migrant workers this year, “with officials unable to collect data in the usual way at airports and other transport hubs owing to the pandemic”, says the newspaper.

And the “ONS has not made any changes to its population projections to take account of Covid-induced emigration”, according to the ESCE report, even though “it has fairly clearly reduced the resident population by some hundreds of thousands”.

The ESCE experts concede that their own estimates are only “illustrative”, but add that “if this is even close to being accurate, this is the largest fall in the UK resident population since World War II”.

As The Telegraph notes, the newly published data may explain “explain why official unemployment remains so low at 4.9% despite the economic shock of Covid”.

The ESCE argues that “much of the burden of job losses during the pandemic has fallen on non-UK workers and has manifested itself in return migration, rather than unemployment”.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has also had a significant effect on birth rates, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The auditor estimates that just 569,000 babies are likely to be born this year, down from 724,000 in 2011 and the lowest figure since 1900.

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