UK Population May Have Seen Largest Fall Since World War II, Study Suggests

January 15, 2021 Updated: January 15, 2021

The total population of Britain could have fallen by more than 1.3 million during the CCP virus pandemic, mostly as a result of an exodus of non-UK born people, new research suggests.

This would be the largest fall in the UK resident population since World War II, according to researchers from the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE), a UK government-funded think tank that focuses on economic measurement.

More Accurate Estimate

The study’s figures are in stark contrast to those of the Office for National Statistics, which estimated a population rise of about 350,000 for the same period, but doesn’t take into account changes in population growth forecasts caused by the pandemic, the authors say.

“Given both what we know about the impacts of the pandemic and what the raw survey data actually say, we would argue that [our estimates] are clearly more plausible than the published statistics,” the authors wrote.

This is also borne out in their estimates of employees. While the Labour Force Survey estimated a rise of about 200,000 employees over the year, the new study’s estimate more closely matches figures from HMRC, the study estimating a 750,000 fall and HMRC stating a 650,000 fall in registered employees.

“This is a huge change, and would profoundly alter our perception of recent labour market developments,” the authors wrote.

Pandemic Migration

The estimated fall is likely a combination of almost no growth in the UK-born population and the return of large numbers of migrants to their home countries during the pandemic, the authors said.

Migrants, especially those from Europe, are disproportionately more likely to be employed in hospitality and other service sectors that require face-to-face contact.

These workers are more likely to have been furloughed or lost their jobs, as these sectors have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

Many foreign students who would otherwise be studying at British universities may have decided not to come to the UK or return to their UK campuses, because many universities have moved to online teaching.

A large sign to thank people
A large sign to thank people for coming to London’s West End and to stay safe by observing social distancing to help stop the spread of the CCP virus in London, on Oct. 29, 2020. (Alastair Grant/AP Photo)

But the most prominent reason, the researchers said, is that the UK, along with Spain and Italy, has done relatively badly in terms of both health and the economy during the first wave of the pandemic, compared with the rest of Europe.

“For many migrants, especially those from eastern, central, and southeastern Europe and especially those who have arrived recently or have family back home, the choice would have been to stay here, with no job, less or no money, and pay for relatively expensive rented accommodation—or return home to family, with lower costs and most likely less risk of catching COVID. Not a hard choice,” the researchers wrote.

“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.”

This partly explains why, despite the serious damage the CCP virus has caused to the economy, unemployment has not yet soared to the levels some predicted, they said.

London Loss

The most striking impact of this trend is in London, where the resident population may have reduced by nearly 700,000 based on estimates using data from the Labour Force Survey, the research found.

The authors of the study, Michael O’Connor and Jonathan Portes, think the trend could be temporary if migrants return to London after the pandemic.

But they recognise that it’s possible for London’s sustained population growth driven by international migration to be reversed, with profound medium- to long-term implications for the capital.